11 September 2003


Stephen Marks writes:

I never thought that the politics of the Socialist Workers' Party and the Communist Party of Britain deterred significant numbers from participating in the antiwar movement before the start of the war. As long as they kept their own politics out of it and were sufficiently "unprincipled" to be open to all opponents of the war - even to the point of having LibDems on the platform - most antiwar opinion couldn't give a monkey's who was putting in the work to get the demos up and running.

But I do think the situation is changing - not because of any changes by the SWP and CPB but because life itself is throwing up new challenges in Iraq, to which the hard left answers are clearly at odds with the majority opinion of those who opposed the war.

The US administration - or at least the neo-con element - was drooling at the mouth at the prospect of reforging Iraq in the USA's image. A modern, pro-Western and democratic Iraq, refashioned by a continuing and benevolent US mandatory regime, would have a domino effect on its neighbours and beyond. It would drain the swamp of Arab and Muslim backwardness, leading to a triumph of free-market values throughout the region, to the benefit of Israel, Bechtel, Iraqi oil priced in dollars not euros, and continued US strategic domination of the region and its resources.

But life proved more complex. Iraqi opinion, while welcoming the fall of Saddam, was clearly suspicious of US motives and insisted on the most rapid possible American departure. Continuing attacks and the need to restore order and infrastructure put a premium on maximising the legitimacy of any interim authority. And the whole messy business looked like lasting much longer, and costing much more in cash and blood, than was likely to prove acceptable to the US public - or to their elected representatives with an election year approaching.

Iraqi political parties, from Shi'ites to Communists, initially agreed on demanding a political conference of all shades of Iraqi opinion, to be convened by the UN, not the US occupation forces, and which would appoint and install a provisional government. This government would decide which foreign troops should be in Iraq and for how long, who was to get what contracts for reconstruction, what should be the future of Iraq's oil industry and other key issues.

The US was compelled as a result to give the Governing Council some real powers, which was not its original intention. And as a result, most major political forces joined it. To my knowledge the only major political forces outside it are the Worker-Communist Party (as opposed to the historic Iraqi CP, which now says it models itself on Swedish Social Democracy) and the more hardline of the Shi'ites.

Interestingly British far-left publications which have given favourable coverage to the WCPI for its criticism of the Governing Council as a US stooge, nonetheless also criticise it for having illusions in the UN, to which apparently it still looks to sponsor a genuinely independent interim government.

None of us can tell what the Iraqi people "really think". But political parties that probably represent between them the great majority of Iraqis seem to think that now the allied occupation is in place, the best way forward is to exploit the US need for credibility in the transitional authority by taking part in the process and pushing for the greatest and speediest possible transfer of powers to Iraqis - as well as the speediest possible restoration of the infrastructure on which the Iraqi people depend for the restoration of any sort of normal life.

(By contrast the Saddamite and fundamentalist "resistance", by sabotaging the restoration of the necessities of daily life, make clear that its politics sees no independent role for the mass of ordinary Iraqis except perhaps as a desperate and maddened mob.)

The same pressures have also forced Bush into an embarassing U-turn at the UN. Previously denounced as dead, the Administration is now begging it on bended knee to accept an enhanced role. With obvious and justified Schadenfreude the French, Germans and Russians have kept Bush twisting in the wind for a reply. As the saying goes, God does not pay his debts in money. And there is the genuine problem of expecting others to provide troops while the US continues its absolute refusal to see US troops anwhere under other than US command.

All this can only reinforce the pressure of the Iraqis for a more rapid "Iraqisation", and under UN not US auspices. The reason of course is not any illusions about the UN. Iraqis who have suffered under its sanctions need no lectures on that score. The UN is not some White Knight of international probity, untainted by the vulgar self-interest of great power special interests. It is nothing more or less than a consensus among the powers that be constructed on the basis of horse-trading and arm-twisting.

As such however it is a preferable alternative - and the only one on offer - to the untrammeled national egoism and self-interest of the sole superpower.

What is the attitude of the left to this? I believe the majority of those who demonstrated would agree with the view taken by the bulk of Iraqi opinion. But judging from what I can see of its comments, the far left seems to have gone on to automatic pilot.

As Iraq is occupied by US imperialism, all those who work with the occupation authorities are collaborationist imperialist stooges. All the saboteurs are part of the "resistance" to whom we owe a duty of unconditional - but of course comrades, not uncritical - support. And according to Socialist Worker, the UN offices were a "legitimate target" - since after all the UN by working with and recognising the fact of the occupation, is an accomplice in it and part of the repressive mechanism of imperialist control etc etc.

There is a real problem with the Stop the War Coalition slogan "end the occupation". Reducing everything to "troops out now" is not going to mobilise the bulk of those who opposed the decision to go to war. And it will surely open up political divisions within what was the anti-war camp which ought to be debated. I dont know where that debate can take place. But given the SWP's atttitude to political argument, it certainly wont be within the StWC.

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