Jose Perez & Iraq Part 2
Gould's Book Arcade
ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Thu Aug 28 21:55:07 MDT 2003
of a Post headed "Jose The Thunderer" by Bob Gould
ARE THE EMPLOYEES OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN BAGHDAD CIVILIANS?
The facts are that the overwhelming majority of the employees of the United
Nations in Baghdad, ARE civilians in any meaningful sense of the word, Jose
Perez's tortuous pseudo legalism notwithstanding. It is a fact that many
Iraqis are deeply hostile to the UN because of the role it played in
enforcing the sanctions, but the dismal paradox is that the UN structure is
also the vehicle for a lot of the material provisions that keep many Iraqis
alive, and, outside the bloodthirsty universe of the Thunderer, Mark Lause
and others, such functions as Polly Brennan's on land mines, are positively
beneficial. These contradictions in the UN are material contradictions of
the sort that can't be avoided in real life.
Perez's bodgy legalism is an elaborate attempt to evade the general
implications of the broad Marxist and Trotskyist tradition in relation to
individual terror, and attacks on civilians.
Tom O'Lincoln initially tried to evade this problem in a slightly different
way, where he referred, without attribution, to Trotsky's famous assertion
about the different moral significance of the terrorism of the oppressed to
the terrorism of oppressors. This was in Trotsky's comment on the young Jew
Grynzspan's assasination of the German Ambassador to Paris, who, it later
emerged, he was personally acquainted with, after Grynzspan's Polish Jewish
parents had perished in the Polish Corridor, after they had been pushed into
the Corridor in the middle of winter with thousands of other Polish Jews
expelled from Germany. Trotsky carefully asserted that he was opposed to
this act of individual terror, but went on to make the moral distinction.
Quite obviously, one aspect of this moral distinction, made by Trotsky, must
be the question of degree.
As Trotsky so vividly expressed it, despite the general opposition of
Marxists to acts of individual terrorism, nevertheless, the individual
assassination of a particular hated imperialist figure like the Nazi
Heydrich or the German Ambassador to Paris, or even Lord Mountbatten, are in
a different moral category to the violence of their oppressors. If, however,
you blow away a large number of civilians along with them, including
particularly the Polly Brennans of this world, the sheer scale of the act
makes the use of Trotsky's distinction inappropriate.
In addition to this, in all revolutionary guerilla wars led by any kind of
conscious political movement of the people, the more conscious leaders of
such guerilla struggles have always taken great care to minimise damage and
danger to civilians. A study of the Irish Republicans in 1916, Che Guevara
and Castro during the Cuban Revolutionary War, the Chinese Eighth Route
Army, all underline the importance of these considerations to serious
revolutionaries, leading genuine people's movements of one sort or another.
The obvious reason for the great care exercised by real people's
revolutionary leaders of guerilla wars, in relation to killing civilians, is
that successful people's revolutionary war requires a great deal of popular
support, and indeed self sacrifice by the people. Indiscriminate terror is
usually both morally repugnant to real revolutionaries, and also counter
productive of their aspirations to victory in a people's war. It's almost a
rule of thumb in evaluating whether an upheaval is a genuine people's war or
not, that one of the primary tests is the behaviour of the rebel force
towards civilians. There can be primeval explosions of popular anger which
violate these rules, but they rarely succeed, particularly in the longer
It's only necessary to describe these things to illustrate how different to
such traditions was the indiscriminate assassination of 20 or 30 civilian
workers in the UN compound. It's also absurd to classify the destruction of
water and electricity infrastructure supplying the civilians of Baghdad, as
acts of people's war. What they do illustrate is the political isolation of
the Baathist Werewolves who have committed these acts.
It's the weirdest bourgeois legalism to try to dress up these actions as a
legitimate aspects of people's war.
A number of other questions arise from Jose the Thunderer's anathema
directed at my grizzled head.
Perez's analysis of the United Nations is simple minded and unusable from a
Marxist point of view. While it's a simple truth that that the UN is, in
general, an instrument of imperialism, its nature and character is still a
good deal more complex and contradictory than this "simple" truth, even in
Iraq, where the UN is deeply unpopular because of ten years of ruthless
sanctions against the Iraqi masses.
The UN is also the arena of conflict between a number of competing
imperialisms, and to complicate things even further, as just about every
country of the world is a member of the UN, many of the countries which are
victims of imperialism, including the most consciously anti imperialist
countries like Cuba and Vietnam, are quite deliberately members of this
international body and attempt to assert their interests within it.
>From time to time the interests of the countries oppressed by imperialism
are expressed within the forum of the United Nations, and from time to time,
major imperialist powers squeal their heads off because, the United Nations,
in their view, gangs up on the imperialist powers from time to time.
Witness, for instance, the repeated, if rather platonic condemnation of the
aggression of Israel against the Palestinians, which so enrages bourgeois
politicians in countries like Australia and the United States.
The contradictions within the United Nations were most sharply expressed in
the protracted inability of the Bush/Blair/Howard cabal to get a Security
Council or General Assembly majority to legalise their piece of military
piracy against Iraq.
The Cuban revolutionary regime, to which Perez usually looks for inspiration
and political leadership, is very active in the UN, and, incidentally, in
this particular instance, sent a message of condolence to the UN in relation
to the bombing and the death of the UN personnel, which is an implicit
condemnation of the bombing. Does this bring the Cubans under the ambit of
Thunderer Perez's anathemas?
Other considerations arise, which are fundamental to Marxists.
The whole thrust of Jose Perez's argument that what exists in Iraq is a
people's war like Vietnam, has to be examined carefully and critically. Most
observers report a number of contradictory things happening in Iraq since
the collapse of the Baathist regime.
First of all, the Kurds have extended their military and civil control to
include Kirkuk and the oil fields surrounding that city, and they have
asserted themselves also in Mosul and that area. Personally, I defend the
struggle of the Kurds for autonomy and independence in their national areas,
despite their military alliance with the Americans. The Kurdish question is
one of the sharp and difficult contradictions facing serious Marxists in
Most observers say that, while the Shiite majority want the Americans out of
Iraq, they are not mainly engaged in military resistance to the American
occupation, they are engaging in massive demonstrations of a more or less
peaceful character, against the occupiers. It's quite clear that the
overwhelming majority of the Shiites hate the Baathists and don't want a
restoration of this bloodthirsty, tyrannical, anti working class Baathist
regime. The violent actions against the occupiers are largely taking place
in Sunni areas, and are ascribed by most observers to remnants of Baathist
military and intelligence.
Some of these actions, like the dynamiting of water supplies to villages and
cities, and the bombing of the UN complex, have been acts of barbarism that
hardly fit into any reasonable model of people's war. These occasional
violent acts by Baathist remnants are likely to be eventually stamped out by
the imperialist military machine, given the hostility to the late,
unlamented Baathist regime by the majority of the population who were
oppressed by it, and did not benefit from it. The Baathist remnants are
obviously trying to make the emergence of any social force other than
themselves, impossible, but the tactics they are using, like the destruction
of the electricity pylons to Baghdad, are likely to enrage the population
It isn't excluded, of course, that after a period of peaceful agitation by
the Iraqi masses for the withdrawal of the American imperialist occupation,
military acts against the occupiers will erupt on a mass scale, not
primarily initiated by either Baathist remnants or Islamic fundamentalists,
but that stage of development has not yet been reached.
THE ANTI WAR MOVEMENT IN IMPERIALIST COUNTRIES
Like Jose Perez, I've been intensely involved in the campaign against the
Iraq War. Along with a number of others, including most of the far left and
the DSP, I have campaigned strenuously that the focus should be on the
withdrawal of imperialist troops, including Australian troops, from Iraq.
Generally speaking, the far left have correctly formulated demands in
Australia in a similar way to the demands formulated by ANSWER in the United
States. We have continued to defend such demands in the face of developing
pressure from more conservative forces in the anti war movement to swing
over to acceptance of the Bremer quisling authority in Iraq, or to some
formula about the United Nations. I have been personally a vigorous
participant in resisting such a shift to the right in the anti war movement,
but the facts are that we are, at this point, a distinct minority in
Australia in resisting this shift to the right.
Jose Perez's ever so rrrevolutionary defence of the terrorist bombing of the
UN compound, as well as being quite wrong in principle, is of no assistance
to us at all in resisting this pressure to shift to the right.
This week's "Green Left Weekly" has a thoughtful and intelligent article by
Doug Lorimer in which he quite properly points to the way the UN has been
used by American imperialism over the ten years of the blockade against
Iraq, to explain the possible context of the bombing of the UN compound.
Mistakenly, in my view, however, Lorimer fails to expressly condemn the
bombing and implies, in a similar way to Perez, that it was the work of what
Lorimer inaccurately, in this context, dubs the "Iraqi resistance".
Within about 24 hours, some of the more conservative figures in the
Melbourne anti war movement seized on Lorimer's article to launch a general
diatribe against the DSP, on the Melbourne Indi Media List and on the Broad
Left List, obviously to strengthen the climate in the anti war movement for
a shift to the right.
Surely considerations like this also enter into the complex manoeuverings
and battles to get a united action against the Iraq War in the USA in
Even more importantly than this, surely major consideration should be given
to the views and possibilities and perspectives of secular socialist forces
inside Iraq, and also in other Islamic countries, particularly in the Middle
I am not aware of any secular socialist groups in Islamic countries,
particularly in Iraq, who share the romanticised view held by some western
leftists of either the Baathist regime in Iraq or of Islamic fundamentalist
political parties and forces. All the socialist groups I know of, in Iraq,
Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Pakistan, etc. etc., share the deepest animosity to
Islamic fundamentalist groups, both for the medieval backwardness, and
because of the very simple fact that such groups attempt to physically
exterminate secular leftists in those countries, which is a sound reason for
hostility to Islamic fundamentalist organisations. Surely western socialists
have a certain obligation of solidarity to their political comrades in
Islamic countries in such matters.
In Iraq secular socialist forces are divided between three or four factions
that come from the old Iraqi Communist Party. The most conservative
Stalinist faction have joined the Bremer quisling authority. This is a major
betrayal. The most active of the other groups is the Worker Communist Party.
It appears to have illusions in the United Nations, which in my view is
mistaken. Nevertheless, it is engaging currently in very vigorous agitation
to re-establish trade unions in Iraq, and have for the last three or four
weeks been taking a leading role in organising the disbanded, largely
conscript soldiers from the Iraqi Army, in their agitation to be properly
paid. In the last few days, several of them have been arrested by Bremer's
quisling authority for this agitation, and an international campaign is now
proceeding for their release.
There are no communist or socialist groups in Iraq who share Jose Perez's
characterisation of the Baathist remnants as a national resistance.
In my view, the appropriate network of agitations and slogans inside Iraq
include: Re-establishment of trade unions. Popular agitation for the
restoration of services, electricity etc. The seizure back of the oil
industry, into the hands of the Iraqi people, from the American imperialists
who are trying to steal it. The publication of workers' newspapers. The
formation of workers and community committees in neighbourhoods, factories,
etc etc., Agitation for immediate elections to a constituent assembly and
the withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq.
No doubt, in the kind of situation after the collapse of the Baathist
regime, many workers, peasants and other oppressed have grabbed weapons in
the chaos. They should hang on to them and they no doubt are. (In the
hallowed tradition of all oppressed peoples, embodied in the old Fenian
ballad about the "blunderbuss hidden in the thatch" which my father learnt
at his Irish Land League father's knee.) The more advanced Marxists amongst
them are most likely hanging on to those weapons carefully for possible
future use, rather than wasting them at this stage in ill considered
collisions with a much more powerful military opponent in the Army of the US
Everything about the current situation in Iraq suggests to me that Marxists
and labor oriented activists inside Iraq are proceeding in the general
spirit of what I have written above, obviously experimenting as they proceed
in a complex and contradictory set of circumstances.
Approaching the Iraq question in the above spirit may not have the
propaganda appeal of stressing the chaotic nature of the situation in Iraq
after the imperialist conquest. I am in favour of making the maximum
propaganda use of the problems facing the American, British and Australian
imperialist occupiers in Iraq, including the problems presented by the
sporadic violence, directed against those imperialist occupiers.
Nevertheless, the propaganda points to be made in imperialist countries seem
to me to be of a second order of magnitude to the real problems facing
Marxist, socialists and revolutionaries inside Iraq, in their righteous
struggle to re-establish an effective labor movement in their country.
Common cause with military adventures by Baathist remnants or Islamic
fundamentalists, is at this stage, in obvious conflict with the more mundane
necessities dictated by the kind of agitation necessary to re-establish a
labor movement and a genuine popular resistance in the country.
Jose the Thunderer's knee-jerk anti imperialism has a certain appeal to
liberals and leftists in imperialist countries, largely stemming from our
isolation and our frustration at the military success of Bush, Howard and
Blair's imperialist assault, and our failure to defeat it. Nevertheless,
this knee jerk anti imperialism is counter productive to a serious Marxist
approach to building an ongoing effective movement either in Iraq or in
Iraq sharply poses problems also posed in a number of other situations in
the world. The general necessity for Marxists at the moment is to vigorously
oppose the world hegemonic rule of US imperialism. Nevertheless American
imperialism proceeds by way, in part, of the use of demagogy about democracy
and human rights. It is a great mistake for Marxists to oppose this
imperialist demagogy by supporting reactionary regimes that are, in fact,
totally insupportable from a Marxist point of view.
Four instances come immediately to mind. Despite Bush's support for it,
Marxists must support the overthrow of Mugabe and his replacement by the
limited bourgeois democratic MDC in Zimbabwe. Similarly, Marxists must
support the overthrow of the long lived dictatorship of the generals in
Myanmar, and this dictatorship's initial replacement by the bourgeois
democratic movement of Aung San Suu Kyi. Marxists must support the movement
for democracy in Hong Kong against the Stalinist authorities attempt to
suppress that movement. Marxists must also support the mass movement of the
students in Iran against censorship, medieval social practices and the
reactionary rule of the mullahs, despite the fact that Bush also ostensibly
supports the movement of the youth and students. These are all situations
where the demagogic advocacy by American imperialism of democracy and human
rights should not prevent Marxists from supporting, in a critical way,
democracy and human rights. There are further such instances in the world.
By Bob Gould
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