Jose Perez & Iraq Part 1
Gould's Book Arcade
ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Thu Aug 28 21:51:49 MDT 2003
Part 1 of 2 posts:
JOSE THE THUNDERER, THUNDERING JOSE!
A RESPONSE TO JOSE PEREZ AND TOM O'LINCOLN ON THE BAGHDAD BOMBING
OF THE U.N. COMPOUND, THE PRESENT STAGE IN IRAQ AND OTHER
By Bob Gould
My battered, much read, much lent copy of "Let History Judge" (about Stalin)
by the Soviet dissident, Roy Medvedev, starts with four quotes, two of which
"We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on
whom it is to serve." V.I. Lenin
"Self-criticism -ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root
of things -that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian
movement." Rosa Luxemburg.
I took up Tom O'Lincoln sharply about Timor and the Baghdad bombing, to
provoke a forthright discussion of some matters which are frequently
referred to on Marxmail only in an indirect, rather moralising way.
It's fair enough for my rather sharp tone with Tom to evoke a sharp
response. In the event, Tom's response was sensible and careful. His tone
was a bit more circumspect than mine. As the discussion has developed, Tom
has spelt out fairly definitely his opposition, as a Marxist, to that part
of the violence in Iraq which is indiscriminate terrorism, and has further
indicated his personal preference for non-violent labor organising in Iraq
at this stage, rather than military clashes with the imperialist occupiers.
I didn't quite anticipate that my points would push Jose Perez quite so
severely over the edge, into the stratosphere, so to speak, and bring down
on my head such thundering, deliberately insulting, anathemas. Jose, the
Thunderer, prides himself on not being any kind of sectarian Trotskyist, but
when the mood takes him, he can trade "foul stenches" and "capitulations to
the pressure of bourgeois imperialist public opinion", with the best of
them, while implying even graver words of excomunication, from which he only
refrains in deference to Louis Proyect's rules. I don't think the Thunderer
is actually in much danger of Louis applying the rules to him.
A few times recently, when I've found myself in agreement with some of Jose'
s quite sensible posts. I've made a bit of a point of agreeing with him on
list. The mental image of Jose grinding his teeth every time I agree with
him publicly, has kind of appealed to my political sense of humour but, in
retrospect, this may have been unwise, as it seems to have made a
significant contribution to pushing him over the edge, into the weirdest,
most extravagant and extreme propositions, a long way from Marxism as I
understand it. My post also seems to have precipitated some pretty wild
observations from Mark Lause and others. On the other hand, as I've
indicated, O'Lincoln's response is much saner and is informed by
propositions and issues which are pretty basic to any proletarian Marxism. O
'Lincoln points out that some of the bombings in Baghdad are terrorism. O'
Lincoln quite properly says: "Nevertheless, small elite bands or individual
suicide bombers hitting non-military targets is terrorism, and it is not the
way Marxists would fight the struggle."
I have provoked Jose Perez into expressing, in a most extreme form, the kind
of knee jerk, ultra anti imperialism, neglectful of other factors like the
national question, the particular interests of the working class, democratic
demands etc., held by many whose opposition to the crimes of imperialism,
particularly American imperialism, makes them blind to just about any other
significant political questions.
It seems to me that this is the kind of outlook shared by quite a few
contributors to Marxmail. From this point of view, a calm engagement with
Thundering Jose and the propositions that he advances, is very useful.
Perez objects to my proposition that civilized Marxists should condemn the
terror bombing of the civilians in the UN compound in Baghdad. I would have
thought that this proposition was, from a traditional Marxist point of view,
unexceptionable. It has been routine for most British Trotskyist
organisations, for instance, to condemn Irish Republican bombings which
have, even inadvertently, blown away civilians. Such statements of
condemnation have frequently been made by the Militant Group, the old WRP,
the British SWP, and other groups
This condemnation of bombing civilians has, with most of the groups, taken
place alongside general support for the struggle of the Republican movement
against the British occupation in Ireland, including its military aspect.
Perez the Thunderer gives himself a basis for condemning any such opposition
to the Baghdad bombing in a most ingenious way. He becomes, in this context,
what, here in Australia, is called, a "bush lawyer", by attempting to define
away the notion of "civilian". He asserts that the United Nations and all
its works and NGOs associated with it, are in no sense civilians, and are
therefore legitimate military targets. His bourgeois bush lawyer legalism
really gets into rhetorical flight, when he asserts that being concealed
military instruments in civilian clothes, they don't even qualify for the
Geneva Convention and can be shot on capture. This seems to me just a little
extreme, and completely unscientific and unMarxist, when applied to an
assortment of international civil servants, NGO do gooders and very serious
minded opponents of land mines like Polly Brennan. Perez works himself into
a real frenzy where he says, without convincing justification, that what he
asserts is the Iraqi popular resistance movement, has declared general and
comprehensive military war against the American occupier.
Perez, the international jurisprudence expert - bush lawyer, waxes eloquent
about the illegality of the assault on Iraq, which is correct and useful
when arguing against the American imperialist assault. He then, however,
quite unreasonably extends this essentially juridicial argument to imply
that the Iraqi masses are obliged to accept the government and leadership of
the Baathist remnants, who he asserts are conducting a kind of People's
War. One basic problem with this proposition is that Marxists deal in social
forces and social realities and social facts. Questions of bourgeois
legality are sometimes important, but they are usually not the whole story,
from a Marxist point of view.
Perez asserts: "There is no case to be made that the Iraq war is over. There
can be no pretense that this is anything other than a military occupation
authority in a time of war."
I make a contrary assertion, which I believe is much more grounded in the
actual realities of the current situation in Iraq. I assert that the
military war of aggression by American imperialism, is more or less over.
The Iraqi Army surrendered and the late and unlamented, vicious Baathist
state of Saddam Hussein largely disintegrated. While not justifying the
American imperialist assault on Saddam's regime, which I strenuously fought
against, nevertheless Marxists deal in social realities, and the military
and structural collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime marks a new stage in
The situation in Iraq now has clearly something in common with the situation
in Germany after the military defeat of Hitler's regime by the Western
allies and the Soviets. The Nazi regime, which had some popular support,
like the Saddam Hussein regime, was able to mount some rear guard Werewolf
activity against the occupying powers, but that rapidly collapsed, because,
despite the fact that the Nazis had some support due to their fairly long
period in power, and that some of the old state employees etc, military men
and others, owed something to them, in the face of the overwhelming military
power of the occupiers, and the hatred of the majority of the population
towards the Nazis, the Werewolf military activity ceased quite quickly. It's
obvious that all historical analogies like this are a bit imprecise, but I
insist that the present circumstances in Iraq bear significant resemblance
to the circumstances in Germany after the military defeat of the Hitler
The military and social facts of the situation are to some extent,
independent of one's views about the imperialist assault on Iraq.
Other historical analogies that are of some value in considering the present
stage in Iraq are the situation in France after the French surrender to the
Germans in 1940, the situation in Japan after the Japanese surrender to the
allies in 1945, the situation in Vietnam after the original Geneva
settlement that divided the country between North and South, and the later
situation on Vietnam after the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975, and the
situation in Ireland between the defeat of the Easter Rising in 1916, and
the recommencement of military operations against British imperialism in
In all those situations the first phase was dominated by the desire of the
masses for the re-establishment of normal social life, which asserts itself
in many situations after war, military defeat, conquest and the collapse of
dictatorial regimes. In those instances from the above list, where serious
military action against occupiers eventually emerged, it only emerged after
a significant period of reorganisation and political rebuilding by some
coherent group, with clear political aims, like the French Resistance or the
Sinn Fein IRA in Ireland, or the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong after 1960
Peter Boyle and Tom O'Lincoln have very usefully put up on Marxmail the
following document: "International Crisis Group assessment of Iraq". (It
arrived in my Inbox on 28/8/03 at 3.41 am.) The International Crisis Group
is an international, more or less social democratic, think tank. The former
Australian Labor Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, is its principal officer,
and despite its clear political biases, its factual assessments are
generally highly regarded.
A close reading of most journalists' reports from Iraq and information from
Iraqis in Australia, suggests that this Crisis Group's account is generally
accurate. It hardly needs to be said that sporadic military actions by
mainly Baathist or Islamic fundamentalist elements, opposed by the majority
of the Iraqi people, hardly qualify as the serious military beginnings of a
broadly based Iraqi resistance movement.
The Baathist regime was the legal government of Iraq according to bourgeois
jurisprudence, but so, for that matter, was the government of Suharto in
Indonesia and even the government of Hitler in Germany. It does not at all
follow from this, that Marxists are concerned to restore such reactionary
bourgeois dictatorships, if they fall, no matter how they fall. Surely the
views and the experiences of the Iraqi masses are important in this
respect. The bloodthirsty Baathist dictatorship killed some hundreds of
thousands of the people of Iraq. Iraq has approximately the same population
as Australia and if somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 people were
murdered by an Australian dictatorship, it's reasonable to suppose that
their relatives and friends would be relieved when that dictatorship
disappeared, whatever the instrument of its disappearance.
THE REVENGE OF THE EARLESS ONES
Most journalists report great hostility to the Baathists, amongst most of
the population. For instance, there are many thousands of peasants and
workers in Iraq with one ear missing because they attempted to avoid Saddam'
s military draft. When the Saddam regime collapsed, hundreds of thousands of
weapons disappeared into the population. Many of these weapons have been
acquired by earless workers, their relatives and friends. Most observers
say there have been many many more violent acts against particular Baathist
butcherers and torturers than there have been against the occupying forces.
This has been particularly the case in Shiite and Kurdish regions. Paul
McGeough, a well respected Australian liberal journalist, had a very
informative first hand account of these circumstances in the "Sydney Morning
Herald" a few days ago.
I have no objection to Iraqi people defending themselves in any way
necessary, including violently, against physical attacks on them by the
imperialist occupiers. It would be amazing, indeed, if there were not quite
a number of incidents of Iraqis defending themselves against US soldiers,
given the chaotic situation in Iraq. I have no objection, either, to Iraqi
people who have been victims of Baathist tyranny, pursuing their Baathist
torturers to get justice, and they are apparently doing so on an even larger
scale than the episodic physical conflicts with the occupying troops.
I do, however, think it is strategically unwise for opponents of the
imperialist occupation of Iraq to be taking primarily military action
against the occupiers at this point, as I believe that it lacks popular
support amongst the population and is likely to be counterproductive to the
development of a substantial successful movement against imperialist
occupation. What I think about this, however, and what Jose Perez thinks
about it, is not the decisive consideration. The primary consideration is
what the Iraqi masses think about it, and the overwhelming evidence is that,
at this point, the bulk of the Iraqi masses are pretty pissed off with most
violent acts from whatever quarter, and at this point, want the restoration
of normal social life so that they can pursue normal lives. I don't know if
Perez has noticed substantial demonstrations, rather quixotically demanding
of the imperialist occupier a more effective police presence to stop civil
crime and looting, illogical though this demand on the American forces, who
are the real source of the civil disorder, may be.
While it's appealing emotionally, to see the American occupiers getting a
bad time, I inevitably am drawn, like Tom O'Lincoln, to look at this
question from the point of view of the independent mobilisation of the
working class, the peasants and the masses in Iraq.
There are a large number of Iraqi refugees who have settled in Australia,
Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis. Australian leftists like myself and others who
have been active in the agitation in support of refugees, have met many of
them. I have met dozens and I haven't met any of them who isn't relieved and
glad that the Baathist regime has been overthrown, including quite a number
who, despite having had relatives and friends murdered by the Baathists,
nevertheless opposed the Bush/Howard/Blair imperialist assault on Iraq. They
opposed the Bush war, but there's no question to any of them of campaigning
for the restoration of the Baathist regime, which is implied in Jose Perez's
diatribe. Perez clearly infers that the Iraqi masses should support the
military acts, including terrorist acts, of Baathist Werewolves, for the
retoration of their regime.
Perez should access the web site of the Workers Communist Party of Iraq.
This party is well represented amongst Iraqis in Sydney. If Perez thinks
that I'm misrepresenting the views of Iraqi leftists, he should look at that
site. The workers Communist Party is opposed to the other CPs participation
in the quisling Bremer pseudo administration, but it is nevertheless
strenuously opposed to any restoration of Baathist power by "people's war"
or any other means. It's not really in the nature of human beings, including
secular Iraqi leftist human beings, to favour the restoration to power of a
dictatorship which has killed your relatives, political associates, and will
kill you if it gets the chance.
I get my hair cut at a Greek hairdressers in Newtown. Two of the four
hairdressers there are youngish Shiite refugees from Baghdad. I've struck up
a cautiously friendly relationship with them over the last couple of years.
They are in relatively constant phone contact with their relatives back home
in Baghdad. They have always expressed intense hostility to the Saddam
Hussein regime and they describe the massacres of the Shiites in various
uprisings very vividly. Nevertheless, before the war started, the more
articulate one expressed the view that if the Americans invaded Iraq, he was
willing to go back to fight against the Americans for Iraqi independence.
Since the war, however, their attitude has changed a bit.
The articulate one, who is still hemmed in in Australia on one of the
offensive Refugee Bridging Visas, now intends to return to Iraq almost
immediately. His response to my systematic questioning about the aftermath
of the war, is that his relatives are all intact, that in their part of
Baghdad, food and water are beginning to function. He says that there is a
lot of civil discontent with the American occupation, including
demonstrations in which his relatives have participated. He says that the
sabotage and terrorist acts have little popular support, particularly in his
Shiite community. He is hoping for a return to normalcy, but he says that
things will change dramatically if the Americans don't cede sovereignty back
to the Iraqi people quickly. In sum, he says that the Shiite community are
adopting a cautious policy, and he expresses the greatest hostility to any
idea of restoring the Baathist regime. He also forcibly asserts, however,
that the American imperialist occupier must vacate Iraq quickly.
Based on the evidence of my Shiite refugee friends, and the other Iraqis I
know, mainly associated with the Workers Communist Party, it seems clear to
me that Perez's romanticised vision of a current defensible military
national resistance, is a mentally constructed fantasy, in the minds of
excited anti imperialists outside Iraq.
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