2004-07 Which Side is the ISO on, Working Class Socialism or Nationalism and Islamism? [Ketabchi]
By Mahmood Ketabchi , July 8, 2004
On July 2, 2004, Socialist Worker, carried an article called “Why you should support the opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the right to resist” in which Eric Ruder responds to questions regarding “Iraqi resistance.”
In this article, Eric Ruder talks about “Iraqi resistance to occupation” and analyzes the make up and characteristics of the “resistance.” He sees the armed resistance of Islamists and nationalists as justified and therefore, prescribes that anyone who supports freedom should support Islamist and nationalist movements in Iraq.
As usual, under the rubric of “supporting the opposition to the U.S. Occupation of Iraq,” the ISO continues to deny class and class struggle in Iraq, and lends its rabid support to Iraqi nationalist and Islamist forces. In the entire article of 2,260 words, there is not even one word about Iraqi working class struggle for freedom and equality or the tremendous efforts by Iraqi workers who are fighting under incredibly harsh and brutal conditions to organize their ranks against the US occupation and capitalist exploitation of Iraqi workers. You will not find one word about the women’s liberation movement that opposes the US government, violence against women, misogynism, and all brutal laws and regulations that turn women into subhumans. There is nothing about the squatters’ movement for decent housing and a better life. There is no word of communism, socialism, unionism, workers’ councils, neighborhood committees, workers rights, women’s freedom, equality, secularism, etc.
Iraq is a capitalist society with class and class struggle and ongoing social movements and real social and political forces representing Iraqi workers and capitalists. Iraqi workers and women have a long and valiant history of progressive and powerful struggle for freedom and equality. Every page in the history of Iraq in the last century reflects the aspiration and hopes of the Iraqi masses for communism and socialism. Only the bourgeoisie opportunism of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) stopped Iraqi workers after the1958 revolution from undertaking the “forbidden” task of taking political power in their hands.
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, 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. But ISO is not concerned with any of this because apparently Iraqis [for some racist reason] like to be oppressed and brutalized under an Islamic order. This is what the ISO calls “the right to self determination” and “a national liberation movement.” Since I have already dealt with the issue of self-determination and nationalism in two previous articles, I will not belabor them here.
See “Debunking Left Nationalism and Bourgeoisie criticism of Imperialism” and “ISO: National Isolationism or International Solidarity” which can be found at http://www.wpiraq.net/english/index.htm
One might argue that I am being unreasonably harsh on the ISO because the intent of the article was “Iraqi armed resistance” rather than workers’ struggle. But this argument will not hold. First, the article is titled “Iraqi opposition to occupation and the right to resist.” Second and most importantly, the ISO thinks any demand other than the demand to end the occupation only serves to justify US occupation. This is what Eric Ruder says in an earlier article “U.S. out of Iraq now!” on April 23, 2004:
“To demand anything else of the U.S. government other than its immediate withdrawal would give it the political justification to continue the pursuit of its war aims–which it has always cloaked with lofty phrases about democracy, freedom and justice. “
According to this statement, if Iraqi workers fight for the right to organize, protest and strike, if they demand jobs, unemployment benefits, higher wages and benefits, if they work to build shop floor power and demand control over their workplaces, they would provide justification to the US occupation. Eric Ruder tells us that we cannot demand “democracy, freedom and justice” because they are “lofty phrases” which the US uses to justify its occupation of Iraq. This is tantamount to the most backward and reactionary forces in Iraq who throw the same rhetoric in the face of Iraqi workers. They are the ones who tell workers and women in Iraq “it is not the time to speak about class and class struggle, women’s right and liberation because we all have to unite and fight our common enemy, the US government.” Why is the ISO prescribing to Iraqi workers that they should abandon their class movement and struggle to build working class power? Which side is the ISO on? Are they on the side of Iraqi working class or the Iraqi bourgeoisie? Therefore, it is not an oversight nor an accident that Eric Ruder conveniently forgets Iraqi working class and the women’s liberation movement while he talk about the right to resist and opposition to occupation.
Eric Ruder is so eager to lend his support to nationalist and Islamists forces in Iraq that he engages in a xenophobic debate to show us that the opposition to occupation is “homegrown” and foreigners are insignificant in numbers. He writes:
“U.S. OFFICIALS variously blame the armed opposition in Iraq on ‘foreign fighters,’ ‘Saddam loyalists’ and ‘Islamic terrorists.’ The idea that foreign fighters are responsible for the bulk of the resistance–or even a fraction of it–is easy to dispel.”
“There are roughly 25,000 resistance fighters participating in actions at least occasionally, according to Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan and an expert on the Iraqi resistance. Cole suspects that, at most, 400 to 500 fighters are from outside Iraq–a tiny number compared to the homegrown Iraqi fighters.”
The US government brings up the issue of “foreign fighters” for many reasons, among them, to stir up backward nationalist feelings and sentiments against foreigners among the Iraqi masses. Who really cares if there are foreign fighters in Iraq? From the point of view of an “internationalist,” which the ISO claims to be, it is irrelevant whether there are foreigners fighting in Iraq or not. The ISO is free to challenge the lies told to the world by the US government, but engaging in a xenophobic discussion to assure us that the anti occupation movement in Iraq is “homegrown” and not incited by foreigners is quite appalling. What is relevant to consider consists of what kind of movement these foreigners represent, what kind of goals and objectives they are following and what kind of future they see for Iraqi society. Eric Ruder cannot enter this discussion because the resistance forces he supports are so brutal and reactionary that leaves him no room to examine their political objectives and plans and come out sounding progressive.
Thousands of foreigners fought in the Spanish Civil War side by side with Spanish workers, socialists, and anarchists. 2,800 Americans members of Lincoln Brigade participated in the war against Franco and in support of the revolution in Spain. Such an awesome sense of internationalism was one of the most memorable occurrences in the history of workers movements and struggle for socialism.
Iraqi workers and communists do not have any problems or concerns with foreigners. In fact, they receive guests from all over the world with open arms. They would love to have more foreigners joining them in their struggle. Those who have visited Iraq and met with Iraqi trade unionists and socialists know well about the hospitality of the Iraqi masses. Being a foreigner is of no consequences for an Iraqi communist.
Eric Ruder goes on to tell us that a victory by the Iraqi resistance over the US is a victory for “our side”:
“If the Iraqi resistance drives the U.S. out of Iraq, it would be a major setback for Bush’s agenda and the agenda of U.S. imperialism. This would be a tremendous victory for our side–making it much more difficult for the U.S. to choose a new target in the Middle East or elsewhere in trying to impose its will.”
Suppose the the ISO’s wish comes true and the much beloved and eulogized “Iraqi resistance” defeats the U.S. government. What happens to Iraq thereafter is not an issue for the ISO. A victorious Iraqi bourgeoisie will viciously turn Iraq into an unbearable hell for the Iraqi masses. How would ISO respond to that? What will they tell Iraqi workers? Would they say, “We supported the criminal Islamists and nationalists to come to power?”
The “side” the ISO is talking about is for sure not the workers’ side, the side of socialists and communists. An American defeat at the hands of reactionary nationalist and Islamist forces in Iraq, considering the balance of social and class forces in the U.S., may even lead to the rise of a brutal and more right wing bourgeoisie force in the U.S. The U.S. defeat, as ISO claims, will not necessarily benefit workers and socialist movement in the U.S. The al Qaeda’s terrorist and criminal attack in the U.S. that lead to the killing of more than 3000 innocent people only gave Bush and his murderous gang the excuse to announce an “endless war” on the world and the Patriot Act.
In addition, how would U.S. workers benefit from the victory of Islamists and nationalists who will only turn Iraq into more of a hellhole for the Iraqi people? How would mass murder of communists and freedom loving people in Iraq at the hands of victorious bourgeois forces be of any benefit to the workers, communists, and progressive forces in the U.S.? How would U.S. workers benefit from the all out attack and destruction of Iraqi trade unions and workers’ councils in Iraq? How would they benefit from having young girls being assaulted and raped under the guise of Islamic marriage laws? What interest do they have in seeing an absolute rightlessness being imposed on Iraqi society by right wing Islamist and nationalist forces?
No doubt it is important to defeat the US agenda in the Middle East. But, as communists and socialists, we should strive for that goal on our own terms. We do not have to choose between the US and Iraqi reactionary forces. That is not the option because both of them have nothing but a bloody and horrific future to offer Iraqi people. Opposition to the US is not a progressive stand per se. Many reactionary forces opposed the occupation of Iraq. That opposition does not qualify them as our friends or as people whom we should side with. What matters is the kind of future that this opposition represents and objectives it pursues. Worker communism stands for freedom, equality, and workers’ rule and fights for broadest and deepest social reforms and changes in Iraqi society. Worker communism’s yard stick is human liberation.
We should not measure forces opposed to the US by who picks up a gun and shoots at US soldiers, bombs UN Headquarters, blows up mosques, rams into hotels using cars loaded with explosives, etc. Neither is anyone who opposes Islamic and reactionary terrorist forces necessarily our friends. That bloody fight between two terrorist forces must stop because it has turned Iraq into a hell for Iraqi masses and it is impeding the mass organization of workers, women, and other progressive movements. Both sides of the terrorist confrontation in Iraq can be stopped.
ISO lacks revolutionary imagination. It is pathetic that the ISO places its hope for victory in the Islamist and nationalist forces. Can’t they see that there are other possibilities? Is it not possible to defeat the U.S. and its allies through organizing a powerful workers movement? Do socialists have a chance to shape the future of Iraq? Can the Iraqi masses impose their will power and their desire for a human life upon the brutal forces of capital? No one can deny the possibility of a better future and the ability of people to build their own future and control their own life and destiny. The chance is there; the possibility is there, but the question is, are we willing to see it and prepare ourselves for the challenge? The ISO has obviously washed its hands of that possibility and has placed its hope on those at the top of the Iraqi society to free Iraqi.
Only a revolutionary defeat of the U.S. and the Iraqi bourgeoisie by workers and egalitarian forces in Iraq can benefit and empower revolutionary movements and working class forces in the US and around the world. This movement is present and strong in Iraq, and it is being led by the Worker Communist Party of Iraq. WCPI is the only hope in Iraqi society. A grim and dreadful scenario is being created by the US and the Iraqi bourgeoisie that has metamorphosized itself into US allies or Islamists and nationalist “resistance fighters” that the ISO so admires. Only a powerful working class movement with a clear socialist agenda can change the course of history in Iraq.
The Union of Unemployed in Iraq (UUI) and the Federation of Workers’ Council and Union in Iraq (FWCUI) are organizing workers all across Iraq. Regardless of all hardships, both unions have been able to organize hundreds of thousand of workers to fight relentlessly for full and unconditional workers’ rights and a better life for workers and the entire Iraqi society. The Iraqi women’s movement led by Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq has led the fight in keeping women’s rights and freedom on the map. In the midst of a brutal fighting in Baghdad between the state terrorism of the US and Islamic terrorists, more than one thousand women and men came out on March 8th, the International Women’s Day, to protest against the US government and Islamist criminal forces who want another Afghanistan or Iran in Iraq. “Barbarism or socialism,” as Rosa Luxemburg once put it, is where Iraq stands right now.
Progressive workers movements around the world have made up their mind and they are siding with Iraqi workers and other freedom loving mass secular movements in Iraq. A growing number of people in the U.S. among the progressive forces are placing their hope with the Iraqi workers, women and youth and their egalitarian movements. To finish the sentence which Eric Ruder did not end and provide a complete thought, “anyone interested in justice and freedom in Iraq should support the right of Iraqis to resist” and build a free and egalitarian society and a better world.