vrijdag, augustus 13, 2004

'When you have ugly occupations, you cannot have a pretty resistance' - Tariq Ali

I made the mistake of whiling away some afternoon idle moments at work today by visiting Harry's Place. I ended up posting a comment, and it all ended with some rowdy crossed swords and the thorough obliteration of all the work I was supposed to have done. Not a terrible loss. I'm sure the keeners for analysis of European telecoms policy can wait another day (I'm a business journo in Brussels, which I don't think I told y'all yet). The discussion, natch, was about the nature of the Iraqi resistance. As I did not have the time to elaborate my point, despite the wasted hour or so, herewith is the expanded argument:


Before Saddam's regime fell, they said that there would be children showering the occupiers in candy and flowers. When that didn't happen, the neo-cons described the resistance as Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters. When Saddam was captured, they had to begin calling them terrorists, even though the attacks were on US forces and other military, police and political targets. Now the resistance has spread to such an extent that even the New York Times has acknowledged that the partisans actually come from all sectors - students, intellectuals, farmers, trade unionists. And, of course, this is to be expected. If any Western country were occupied, it is natural that a resistance would emerge, involving those from all sectors of society, as it did in France under Nazi occupation - although there, as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, apart from the Communists and other leftists, most French went about their business and made their peace with the occupation well into 1942.

Nonetheless, the question arises, what should the position of progressives, socialists, be in regard to the Iraq resistance?

We essentially have four perspectives in relation to the resistance: 1) that of the occupier-imperialists, that the resistance are terrorists and they must be crushed, and whatever means the US and allied forces use, no matter how many civilians are killed, are legitimate. This can be dispensed of perfunctorily: the resistance is internally far more complicated than this black and white view, never mind the fact that the imperialists have vastly more barbaric military means at their disposal than the resistance that they will and do use. Anyone with the remotest regard for human rights must reject this outright; 2) essentially the mirror image of the first perspective - that of the unquestioning booster of the resistance. Thankfully, outside the Sparticist league there are very few of this description. If the first ignores the brutality of the imperialists, the second ignores the brutality of the anti-imperialists, and, perhaps more importantly, ignores the goals of key sections of the anti-imperialists, i.e., an Islamic fundamentalist Iraq. It too can be quickly dispensed of.

The second and third perspectives, ostensibly in opposition to each other, I would argue are in reality both the correct response, but only in relation to a specific geography. The third is the correct response in the west to the resistance and the fourth is the correct response to the resistance in Iraq and the broader Middle East (excepting Israel proper). They are then: 3) the critical but unconditional support for the resistance and 4) opposition to the occupation and simultaneous opposition to sections of the resistance [I suppose, theoretically there is the position of opposition to the occupation and opposition to the entirety of the resistance, but this leaves one completely immobile intellectually. This, perhaps, might be the position of some liberal NGO workers in Iraq, but as a platform for action it leaves one nowhere. Events occur and one must react to them. Abstaining from a position is no position. This is distinct from the old SWP formulation during the cold war of 'Neither Washington nor Moscow', in that that position entailed backing workers organisations in both the West and behind the Iron Curtain. This - let's call it the deer-in-the-headlights position - offers no course of action]

So let's elaborate these final two positions (and those reading this after having read the back-and-forth over in the comments field over at Harry's Place [11/08/04], forgive me for cut-and-pasting a few bits, but the arguments remain valid)

As to the third, and my, position: The ANC, the NLF in Vietnam, the FLN in Algeria, the French Maquis - which I hope we can all say we supported or would have supported had we been alive at the time - and other national liberation movements have all employed tactics at times that could be described as terrorist. Many people may forget, but the right throughout the eighties described the ANC as a terrorist organization. Dick Cheny, I believe, still does. The sticking point for conservatives, apart from the fact that they were black, of course, was that the 'Soviet-sponsored' ANC engaged in a number of bombings, had an armed wing and used to 'necklace' collaborators - necklacing is a particularly torturous but cheap form of execution in which a petrol-filled tyre is placed around the neck of a victim and set ablaze. Now that the ANC have won and are busy implementing the fiats of the IMF and cutting people's water and electricity off, we can invite them to special ceremonies with school children's choirs at the Toronto SkyDome. Let's have a look at what the UK's Federation of Conservative Students had to say about Nelson Mandela back in the good old days:

[an FCS poster from the eighties]

The truth, of course, is that their armed wing, Umkonto we Sizwe, did engage in acts of terrorism, AND STILL WE SUPPORTED THEM.

Is Muqtada al-Sadr comparable to the ANC? No, clearly Sadr's a thug who imposes sharia law in the areas he controls. But the resistance cannot be reduced to simply Sadr, and furthermore, in the battle between the US imperialists and Sadr, of course we hope Sadr wins. At the same time we hope for the balance of forces within the resistance to shift toward the more progressive forces who are also fighting back and away from such reprobates as the Mehdi Army. The brilliance of American support for brutal regimes in the Middle East, from their perspective, was that virtually all progressive forms of dissent were extinguished. The only forum for dissent was the mosque, thus the dissent that it produced was naturally conditioned by those circumstances. A genuine left opposition does exist in the Middle East and in Iraq, but Islamic dissent has a head start.

Nonetheless, there is a spectrum of politics within the Iraqi resistance, as Susan Watkins very well points out in the latest New Left Review. There are social democrats, liberals, Stalinists, nationalists, Ba'athists and Islamists all there in different factions.

Politically, the Iraqi resistance has been heterogeneous and fragmentary, lacking the established party networks crucial to most previous anti-occupation movements. It includes Nasserites, former Baathist, secular liberals and social democrats, multi-hued mosque-based networks and splits from the collaborationist Iraqi communist and Dawa parties. American observers have commented on the social breadth of an opposition that draws on support from nearly every class, both urban and rural. 'Its ranks include students, intellectuals, former soldiers, tribal youths, farmers and Islamists'. Ideologically, nationalism and Islamism…are potent calls, but there are elements of Third World anti-imperialism and pan-Arabism too. It remains to be seen whether these groups can establish some equivalent of a national liberation front to unite religious and secular groups around the central demand for the expulsion of all foreign troops.

And then we have Tom Lasseter, writing over at Common Dreams:

"In Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, there are long gas lines, a near-epidemic of typhoid and hepatitis due to poor-quality water, and an electrical grid that provides only six hours of power daily for many residents.

"Adel Hamid, a vegetable merchant in Sadr City, which was named for al Sadr's late father, said that over the course of about 15 months of suffering through a lack of basic services, he'd come to see the Americans as the enemy.

"The fight will continue and (Allah willing) we will be victorious," Hamid said. "I will sacrifice my three boys for the Sadr movement; they are in the Mahdi Army now to protect the city."

Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan reports that there are roughly 25,000 resistance fighters participating in actions at least occasionally. He reckons that at most, 400 to 500 fighters are from outside Iraq.

"U.S. forces massacred at least 600 people in Falluja--half of them women and children. But the resistance wasn’t beaten, and within two weeks, it forced U.S. troops to withdraw to the outskirts of the city."

We might also take note of Ian Donovan's comments on the nature of the resistance in the Communist Party of Great Britain's newspaper, the Weekly Worker, on 27 May:

"Sadr's al-Mahdi militia is not some clandestine grouping that engages primarily in hit-and-run guerrilla activity at all, but an openly organised, publicly accessible militia, with thousands of members. Utterly different from al Qaeda or anything remotely resembling it. It more resembles Hezbollah in Lebanon than al Qaeda. And that brings us to the second reason why it is extremely unlikely to be connected to the perpetrators of 9/11. Confessional reasons - the fact that it actually is based on a different, and antagonistic, sub-religion. Shi'ism and sunnism (al Qa'eda is sunni) are as different, and antagonistic, as Protestantism and Catholicism within Christianity. The antagonism was shown quite dramatically at the Shia holy festival of Ashura earlier this year, when what were probably Sunni extremists (who may have been manipulated by the occupiers) planted bombs that killed hundreds of Shia pilgrims in Kerbala."

Then we have this anecdote, reported in the American International Socialist Organisation's newspaper, the Socialist Worker:

"I don’t like Moqtada personally," Haidar Abbas, a resident of Sadr City, told the Washington Post. "Look at what he’s done--gotten a lot of people killed by sending them out against American tanks. But of course, what he says, it’s true. What have the Americans brought us? We are worse off than ever. Moqtada wants them out, and who can argue with that?"

The SW then goes on:

"We’re talking about people who are the equivalent of the Minutemen," said Bruce Hoffman, an adviser to U.S. officials in Baghdad--referring to the militias during the American Revolution made up of civilians who could be mobilized on a minute’s notice. They pick up their weapons and join the fight, and then go back to their homes and farms.

"Wealthy Sunnis in Falluja, for example, have funded the resistance because the lifting of restrictions on foreign capital spells economic ruin for them. They realize that the more fierce the resistance is, the less willing that foreign corporations will be to invest in Iraq."

Let us not forget how the uprising in Falluja started:

"The U.S. military has responded to unarmed demonstrations and other forms of political resistance with such brutality. Falluja was the site of one of the first massacres of unarmed demonstrators, when U.S. troops opened fire on people chanting "No to Saddam! No to the U.S.!" killing 17 and wounding 70 more within a few weeks of the invasion."

Now, this is not yet a national uprising, let's be clear, these are cells of resistance pocketed throughout the country, but then the republican resistance to the British occupation of the north of Ireland never rose to the level of a national uprising, and that did not lesson the righteousness of the Irish struggle.

There is a long-standing perspective on national liberation struggles within the left described as 'critical but unconditional support'. By definition, national liberation struggles are not socialist struggles, they are popular front alliances between militants of all classes with limited, bourgeois demands, and, as such, always employ tactics and include politics that to greater or lesser degrees range from problematic to abhorent for a socialist, and so the socialist criticises those aspects with which he disagrees. Still, in the struggle between imperialism and anti-imperialism, the crimes of the anti-imperialists do not compare to those of the imperialists. There is no question who is the David, and who is the Goliath, hence unconditional support.

The IRA blew up pubs and buses (although here, the UK mainland strategy was limited and episodic compared to the regular attacks on military and police installations in Ulster), but this did not militate against progressive support for the republican movement. Liberals washed their hands of the IRA, but then they hardly wasted much time campaigning against the brutality of the UK occupation in any case.

The key is to buttress as much as we can in the west those progressive elements within the resistance. By condemning the resistance, we aid the Sadr-types in isolating those progressives.

As Ibrahim Allawi, of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation said in his remarks at the SWP's Marxism conference this summer argued:

"I feel the present international anti-war movement could change the face of the earth where it continuous in its growth and sharpens its focus. This current struggle must not only be waged in the streets of Iraq but by the mass democratic movement in the streets of world capitals. This is an international aggressive war and needs to be confronted by an international solidarity movement."

In a statement on its website on 10 August, the IDAO said:

"The expansion of the uprising will add further momentum to the establishment of a broad united front against occupation, and for free elections and democracy in Iraq. Many in Iraq increasingly see this outcome as the only path to the solution to the present security and humanitarian crisis."

The fourth perspective, earlier listed, is quite well outlined by one of its adherents, the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, which struggles in Iraq, against both the occupation and the likes of Sadr and other Islamists, and for a progressive, democrat-led, if not (somewhat optimistically) socialist-led resistance:

"In the U.S. and the West, it is only cultural relativists and bigots like Bush and his cronies, who divide Iraqi society along lines of ethnicity, religion, and tribalism, that can deny the class reality of Iraqi society. In Iraq, it is the Iraqi bourgeoisie that appears as the nationalist movement, Islamist forces, tribal heads, and agents of the CIA and the Pentagon that deny and reject workers and their struggle.

"Why has the ISO turned itself into an apologist and rabid defender of “the resistance movement” which is carried out buy reactionary nationalists and brutal Islamist forces? Why are they ignoring Iraqi workers and their struggle, the women’s liberation movement, etc? Iraqi workers, through their unions and councils, have repeatedly opposed the
US occupation of Iraq and demanded an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Is this opposition of any importance to the ISO? Have mass protests of workers, continuous strike actions, shop floor activities, unionism and general assembly movement any value for the ISO? Aren’t these struggles targeted against the US government, Halliburton, Bechtel, etc? Is it of any importance to the ISO that Iraqi unemployed workers across Iraq became a thorn in the side of the U.S. occupation authority? Which side is the ISO on, Iraqi workers or the Iraqi bourgeoisie? It is quite a shame for an organization that calls itself “International Socialist” to ignore workers and their daily endeavors for a better life and to become a mouthpiece and spokesperson for Islamists and Nationalists.

"Eric Ruder [the author of the ISO piece], who supports “resistance fighters” in Falluja and admires their achievement in forcing the Americans out of the city, needs to take a look at the same fighters who have turned the city of Falluja into another Afghanistan and Iran. Instead he chooses to ignore the brutality and anti-human character of Islamists and nationalists who control the city. Is it of any consequence to ISO that an absolute rightlessness is being imposed on the city? Only a distorted mind can see any benefits in that for Iraqi workers and workers in the U.S.

"We do not have to choose between the US and Iraqi reactionary forces."

And indeed, they are correct, but for Iraq. It is not uncommon for two distinct sets of policies to both be correct, but only so long as they are applied in different jurisdictions. In the west, it is the responsibility of progressives, first and foremost to oppose the occupation and offer solidarity with those who are fighting against it. Within Iraq, it is the responsibility of progressives and socialists to fight for hegemony within the resistance.

Again, we have Ian Donovan writing in the Weekly Worker:

"The Taliban, for instance, a creation of US and Pakistani intelligence, with no evidence whatsoever of any popular support or element of national-democratic revolt about them - very much the opposite in fact - were clearly not supportable against US imperialism in 2001 during the US semi-invasion of Afghanistan. But, when a real popular struggle erupts and masses of people in major urban centres revolt, as happened in April and since, I maintain that to take no side in such a war of national liberation would be a violation of the elementary duty of Marxists to act as a tribune of the oppressed on an international level.

"We do indeed have to struggle against confessional divisions, to guard against a descent into warlordism, as with Somalia or Afghanistan, etc, to construct democratic state forms that can democratically unite the different peoples in Iraq and indeed on a wider basis than Iraq... It may indeed be necessary to build "an anti-occupation coalition political centre capable of including both (some) Islamist and secular (communist, Ba'athist, etc) tendencies".

The two perspectives (the WCPI's argument and the pro-resistance argument) are more than compatible: if we do not offer solidarity to the resistance in the west, this gives free reign to the occupiers, who then have no domestic opposition, which then hurts all - progressive and Islamist - in the resistance. What the WCPI miss is that their criticism would be correct if the ISO were articulating this politic in Iraq, and not, as they are, in the heart of the beast.

However, having said all this, there does come a point where the crimes of the anti-imperialist force begin approach that of the imperialist. Iran is the example par excellence. The Iranian Revolution shows that the defeat of imperialism is not necessarily a guarantee of success for the working class. The Iranian revolution was manifestly a defeat for US and UK imperialism, but it was simultaneously a defeat for Iranian workers. The attacks on New York in 2001 are another example. Indeed, as Chomsky pointed out at the time, 11 September was the first time in history that the scale of an attack by the resisting force (I'll not call al Qaeda a 'resistance') matched that of the oppressor (Of course, the US then immediately went and proved the rule by killing twice as many Afghans as Americans had been killed on the 11th).

At which point, naturally a socialist cannot offer even unconditional-but-critical support, in the same way that through the course of the cold war, the honest socialist took neither side. The SWP's slogan of many years I always thought was very good: 'Neither Washington nor Moscow'.

However, we are far from that point at the moment, thus, now, we must offer solidarity to the resistance unconditionally. Indeed, the time is perhaps ripe even to form western-based Iraqi Resistance Solidarity organisations, in the immediate term offering solidarity through awareness raising, and in the medium term performing fundraising for progressive forces within the resistance. Far from there being an antagonism between the WCPI and ISO perspectives, they are, in reality, the same perspective, but relating differently to each's different location.