Jose Perez & Iraq Part 2

Stuart Munckton stuartmunckton at
Sun Aug 31 06:18:59 MDT 2003

[ converted from html ]

I think one of the things so disturbing about Bob Gould's comments on
Iraq is the liberal morality that runs through them. 'Civilised'
Marxists rejecting 'barbarian' methods that lead to civilian deaths, not
the sort of thing that happens in a 'genuine' peoples war, it seems.

Trotsky, who Gould tried rather unsuccesfully to draw on to back up his
argument, dealt devastating blows to such an approach. He insisted in
'Their Morals and Ours' that the key question is not the means in and of
themselves, but what end they serve. Any act that is a step towards
liberation is moral from a revolutionary point of view, any act that
holds it back is immoral.

Gould condemns the bombing of the UN building from the point of view
that it has killed a couple of dozen people working for the UN, simply
because it has killed those people. He does argue it was tacticly bad
but he clearly believes blowing away civilians like that should be
condemned for its own sake.

If you accept that the Iraqi resistance is legitimate, which it is
unclear Gould does as he tries to draw an analogy between the resistance
and the pro-Nazi forces in occupied Germany, then the key question is
does the bombing of the UN headquarters further or hinder the cause of
liberating the Iraqi people from their occuppiers.

I am not sure it is possible to say one way or another for sure from
such a distance. I am not sure why Gould is so sure that such an act,
directed against an institution that enforced sanctions responsible for
the deaths of around 1.5 million people over 12 years, will isolate the
perpertrators from the Iraqi masses. I'd want evidence of the attitude
of the Iraqi people before drawing a conclusion one way or another.

The aim of the bombing seems to be to force the occuppiers onto the back
foot, and to deal a blow to the US's attempts to get UN or more
'multinational' cover for their occupation. The later has been one

In 'Their Morals and Ours' , Trotsky makes the point that an act that at
one point may be considered a 'terrorist' act that Marxists would
oppose, at another point, like during a civil war, may be both a
legitimate and useful tactic. He uses the hypothetical example of a bomb
that kills General Franco and his staff, which would be a useful tactic
if it could have been carried out during the Spanish Civil War.

Of course, for Gould, the fact that a couple of dozen civilians were
killed is so obviously immoral that Trosky's approach to morality is
cancelled out, claiming 'the sheer scale of the act makes Trotsky's
distinction inappropriate'. This was not the approach of Trotsky
himself. Trosky defended the execution of hostages, that is civilians,
by the Bolsheviks as justifiable in the context of the need of the
Bolshevik regime to defend itself by responding to the White terror with
Red Terror. In 'Their Morals and Ours' Trotsky approvingly refers to the
fact that Marx had defended the execution of hostages by the Paris
Communards. 64 hostages were shot - that is a fair few more than the
number of civilians killed in the UN bombing.

So it is quite clear that Trotsky himself did not subscribe to Gould's
belief that when a few civilians get killed it makes the revolutionary
approach to morality 'inappropriate'. Of course, the execution of
hostages in both the Paris Commune and revolutionary Russia occured in a
specific context - one of trading the lifes of the hostages for the
lives of revolutionaries captured, but the point should be clear that
each example must be looked at in its specific context rather than
condemned on the grounds that civilians have been killed.

Gould says that the failure of the DSP to condemn the bombing allowed
the right wing of the anti-war movement the space to attack the
DSP. Well, the approach of the conservative forces in the movement is
their own perogative. For the DSP to condemn the bombing simply to avoid
the wrath of the right-wingers would be an act of political opportunism.

The DSP shoudn't condemn the bombing for the same reason Marxists should
not make a point of condemning Palestinian suicide bombings, or for that
matter, IRA bombings. We may not agree with the tactic, and consider it
immoral from a *revolutionary* point of view as opposed to liberal
morality point of view - ie: immoral from the point of view that it
holds back the struggle for liberation rather than the fact that it
simply kills civilians, but we should put the blame for the civilian
deaths were it rightly belongs.

Of course the death of civilians is not a good thing, but the blame must
be put where it belongs, with the oppressors who have created the
conflict and the conditions where by the oppressed resort to violence to
defend their interests. This is so obvious that many left-liberals
understand it and rightly blame Israel for the consequences of the
suicide bombings etc. - not supporting the acts but not condemning the
Palestinians either.

A lot is unclear about the UN bombing, such who perpertrated it and why,
and what its real impact is going to be in the struggle to liberate Iraq
from the occuppiers. But the framework in which we judge the act should
be a Marxist one.

Stuart Munckton

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