May 2004  

Mobilize the Workers of the World to Throw Out the Imperialists!

Rebellion Against
Colonial Occupation of Iraq

Fallujah fighters celebrate, 11 May 2004  
Fighters in Falluja rush into the streets May 11 on hearing news that U.S.
troops had lifted the siege and were pulling back.
(Photo: AFP)

MAY 25 – Since the beginning of April, Iraq has been convulsed by a rebellion that has extended to practically all the cities in the center and south of the country. Initially, the imperialist troops were thrown of Fallujah, Ramadi, Najaf, Kut,, Nasiriya and the huge Al-Sadr City in Baghdad itself. There were attacks against police stations in Basra in the far south and Mosul in the north. Overcoming historic divisions which had been fanned by the imperialists since the time of British colonial rule, Muslims of both Sunni and Shiite rites drew closer to fight against a common enemy: the invaders headed by the United States, along with its second- and third-rate imperialist allies (Britain, Spain, Italy, Netherlands) and various servile regimes dependant on Washington. While the U.S. has loudly proclaimed its intention of handing “limited sovereignty” over to an Iraqi “government” by June 30, it has yet to announce who that government will be (leaving the decision up to a United Nations envoy). And among the Pentagon brass, the conviction is spreading that in its present contours the ongoing war in Iraq is “unwinnable.”

This is quite a turnaround for U.S. president George Bush, who a year ago proclaimed the end of “major combat” in Iraq under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished.” During the last two months, almost 200 U.S. soldiers have been killed along with dozens of its “private” mercenaries, causing a lot of anxiety in Washington. After a month of surrounding the Sunni city of Fallujah in central Iraq, a hotbed of resistance for the last year which threw back every U.S. incursion, at the beginning of May the U.S. command decided to turn the city over to the former Ba’ath rulers, bringing in one of Saddam Hussein’s generals to take command of an instantly formed local “army” (consisting mostly of former Iraqi army men). In the south, U.S. troops continue to encircle Najaf and Fallujah, but after two months trying to root out the militia led by the junior Shiite cleric Moktar al-Sadr without success, the Pentagon has apparently decided to integrate Shiite militiamen into its puppet “Iraqi army” and leave them in control locally. Meanwhile, in the north the armed forces consist of “former” Kurdish peshmerga (guerrillas) with new shoulder patches sewn onto their uniforms.

Unable to secure the country, the U.S. is carving it up into three distinct sectors, each dominated by rival religious/ethnic forces, hoping to play one off against the other in classic imperialist “divide and rule” fashion. In the meantime, however, the haughty imperialist rulers have managed to provoke a rebellion against colonial occupation in most of the country. On top of this, fury and outrage have swept the country and the whole of the Near East over the hideous torture of Iraqi prisoners being carried out at the Abu Ghraib and other U.S. jails around Iraq (see “Torture, American-Style”). Even many of the minority who welcomed the U.S. invasion are now convinced that the U.S., Britain and its allies have got to go. Back in Washington, a half dozen Congressional committees are investigating “what went wrong in Iraq,” with U.S. war secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputies on a merry-go-round of hearings, rushing from Senate to House and back. And with the administration reeling, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who reportedly was present during some of the torture sessions, is now being yanked. 

The League for the Fourth International has called since before the beginning of the imperialist invasion for the defense of Iraq and the defeat of the occupation forces, as we did in Afghanistan as well, the previous target of the U.S.’ terrorist “war on terror.” The LFI has insisted that every blow by the Iraqi people landed against its bloody colonial rulers and the occupation armies is a blow on behalf of the exploited and oppressed the world over (see “Sink U.S. Imperialism in the Quicksands of the Near East!” in The Internationalist No. 17, October-November 2003). At the same time, we have emphasized that the struggle against the invaders must not be limited to the immediate targets of the aggression, but instead it is the duty of class-conscious workers and opponents of imperialism throughout the world to mobilize their power to bring the U.S. war machine to a grinding halt. We call on workers to refuse to handle war materiel, and fight for strikes and work stoppages against the war and occupation. The exploited and oppressed everywhere are under attack – to defeat the imperialist war, it’s necessary to unleash a powerful international class war.

The rebellion underway against the occupation of Iraq can only encourage struggles against the bosses, against racial oppression, against escalating police-state measures and against imperialist domination around the globe. We salute those who have courageously fought the U.S. army in the martyr city of Falluja, braving unparalleled firepower and defying the imperialist commanders who imitate the Nazis with their indiscriminate criminal massacres.

The rulers in Washington and the tame U.S. bourgeois media claimed to be horrified by the scene of some of their mercenary killers being killed on the outskirts of Falluja. But they show no revulsion at the sight of little girls killed in their bedrooms by U.S. missiles in Falluja. Behind their feigned shock is the fear that the American population and the rest of the world could see with their own eyes the cruelty of the dirty war which the U.S. is waging against the Iraqi people. They even banned photos of the caskets of soldiers arriving at Dover AFB covered with the U.S. flag, because they seek to hide the cost in lives of their invasion and colonial occupation. Of the thousands upon thousands of Iraqs murdered by the invaders, not one image is shown. 

At the same time as we express our deep hatred for the imperialist crimes, proletarian revolutionaries must also correctly analyze the nature of the fight in order to defeat an unscrupulous enemy which seeks to subject the world to its diktat. Many on the opportunist left have made simplistic analyses, claiming that the invasion of Iraq is simply a “war for oil.” They are seeking to respond to the cynical and changing arguments of the architects of the war (invented connection with the terrorists who carried out the 11 September 2001 attacks, a search for non-existent “weapons of mass destruction,” and finally a phony struggle to free the Iraqi people from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the CIA’s former hit-man against Communists in Baghdad and one-time U.S. ally against Iran), by underlining the base motives of the warmongers. But this isn’t just a war for profit. The LFI has explained that the interest of U.S. imperialism for the “black gold,” which is real, is not that it wants to import Iraqi oil, which it gets from Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria and Angola, but rather that it wants to have its hand on the oil tap, so that it can turn on or off the supplies of this vital resource to its imperialist “allies” and rivals in Europe and Japan. We have pointed out that the “war without end” currently being waged against Afghanistan and Iraq is a precursor to a new inter-imperialist world war. 

Looking for the support of the French and German imperialists who didn’t want to endorse the invasion (but do want to participate in the looting of Iraq) is imitating the liberals and reformists who in the 1930s called for the intervention of the “democratic” imperialists in the wars in Spain and Ethiopia. It is right to direct the main political fire against the dominant Yankee imperialism, but at the same time it is necessary to oppose the European imperialists as well, who participated in the two wars against Yugoslavia (1995 over Bosnia, 1999 over Kosovo) and who today are patrolling Afghanistan. To take a noteworthy example: the bombing of a suburban commuter train full of Spanish and immigrant workers in Madrid on March 11 led to the election victory of the Spanish Socialist Party, particularly when it was shown that the government of the “ex”-Francoist José María Aznar lied as it tried to blame the Basque nationalists of ETA for the criminal attack. The new Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ordered the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. But Rodríguez Zapatero, now head of the Spanish imperialist state, has promised to increase Spanish participation in the occupation of Afghanistan, while continuing the war against the Basque nationalists who are demanding the elementary right to self-determination.

In the United States, opposition to the war is being channeled into the Democratic Party and its virtual presidential candidate, John Kerry. That is the meaning of all the references to “Bush’s war.” In fact, the majority of the Democratic members of Congress voted for the war, and during the primary elections none of them called to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. At the most they are calling for the aid of the United Nations to replace U.S. troops. But now that the U.S. expeditionary force is bogged down, even Bush is asking for U.N. intervention to decide on the nature of a “provisional government” to which it can hand over a fictitious “sovereignty” (while more than 150,000 imperialist troops and mercenaries continue to run the country). And Democrat Kerry, who as a young officer in the U.S. Army in Vietnam came to oppose that war (after committing “atrocities,” as he admitted then but denies today), voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq and vows to “stay the course,” even increasing the number of American troops there. 

One of the spurious arguments that U.S. rulers use to beat down internal opposition to the war is that, whether or not the invasion was justified, if the United States pulls out now it will unleash a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. It is a myth that the two main branches of Islam have been continuously at each other’s throats in Iraq. In fact, the Shiites in the south were some of the most prominent Iraqi nationalists who led the resistance to British colonial occupation in the 1920s. As the Iraqi Marxist historian Hanna Batatu wrote of the 1920 rebellion:

“What more than anything else helped the progress of the new sentiment was the English invasion of 1914-1918, or rather the resistance that it stirred and that reached its climactic point in the armed uprising of 1920. For the first time in many centuries, Shi’is joined politically with Sunnis, and townsmen from Baghdad and tribesmen from the Euphrates made common cause. Unprecedented joint Shi’i-Sunni celebrations, ostensibly religious but in reality political, were held in all the Shi’i and Sunni mosques in turn ... Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that with the events of 1919-20, and more particularly with the bond, however tender, that was created between Sunnis and Shi’is, a new process set in: the painful, now gradual, now spasmodic growth of an Iraqi national community.”
The Old Social Classes and Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton University Press, 1978)

While noting that “the armed outbreak that this agitation precipitated could not be said to have been truly nationalist either in its temper or its hopes,” being initially a tribal affair, it set the basis for the growth of opposition to colonial rule. The British imposition of a puppet government (the Hashemite monarchy) while British troops and air forces controlled “security,” along with the increasing class polarization of Iraqi society led to the growth of a Communist groups with roots among all ethnic and religious communities (Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, Turkomans, Christians) that became stronger in Iraq than anywhere else in the Near East.

Today, when U.S. troops launched an attack against Al-Sadr City in Baghdad, a center of the impoverished Shiite population, there were reports of Sunnis from Falluja distributing leaflets saying, “We support you, our brothers, in your struggle.” When the onslaught against Falluja began a few days later and Arabic-language TV showed scenes of the slaughter there, hundres of Shiites went to Red Crescent Society (equivalent of the Red Cross) centers to donate blood. Joint caravans of Sunnis and Shiites traveled from Baghdad to Falluja to take food and medicine to the embattled rebels and Shiite fighters joined the struggle there. Well-known British journalist Robert Fisk commented ironically, “The British took three years to turn both the Sunnis and the Shias into their enemies in 1920. The Americans are achieving it in just under a year” (Independent [London], 6 April). Precisely on the first anniversary of the entry of the imperialist troops into the Iraqi capital, April 9, some 200,000 Muslims, many of them Shiites, attended the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad in an impressive display of unity in opposition to the occupation.

Among the “mainstream” imperialist politicians in the U.S., we are now hearing voices pronouncing the dreaded “Q-word,” quagmire, and even in Congress Democratic senators Kennedy, Byrd and Biden, and even the Republican McCain, are comparing the war in Iraq with the Vietnam War. The Bush administration vehemently denies that “Iraq is Bush’s Vietnam,” as Kennedy declared, not mentioning that his brother John launched the war on Vietnam. Some Zionist commentators are saying that Iraq has nothing to do with Vietnam, but it is very similar to the situation in Lebanon following Israel’s 1982 invasion. Even though Israel had overwhelming military superiority, after driving out the Palestine Liberation Organization it couldn’t extract itself from the swamp of feuding and communal strife between the various Lebanese communities (Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druzes, Greek Orthodox and Maronite Christians, Alawites, etc., in addition to Palestinian refugees), and a decade later Israel had to withdraw. Others, such as Democratic president Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argue that the war in Iraq is more like the Algerian war of independence against French colonialism. (Top Pentagon officers last fall were avidly viewing the film, Battle of Algiers.)

Obviously there are notable differences between all these wars. In the case of Vietnam, in addition to a struggle for national liberation there was a social revolution underway that freed the peasants and workers from the capitalist yoke, leading to the establishment of a workers state, although bureaucratically deformed under the Stalinist regime of Ho Chi Minh and his successors. This gave the Viet Cong fighters a spirit of solidarity and common struggle that is inconceivable in a capitalist army. There was also a fully formed nation, in contrast to the fragmented Iraqi state, as well as the significant (albeit limited) military support of the Soviet Union. But Vietnam, Lebanon and Algeria have an important point in common, namely that in all three cases a people that was vastly weaker militarily than the imperialist or Zionist forces was nevertheless able to win. But precisely because of their military weakness, the ultimate defeat of the occupation forces was in large part due to the international extension of the struggle. In the case of Iraq, while the fighters in Falluja could inspire resistance elsewhere as well, a final showdown with the imperialist forces will have to be waged in all the big cities, above all in the capital, Baghdad, where it would have to take the form of a mass insurrection. The key question, then, is what character such an insurrection would have.

There has been much talk recently of a joint uprising by Sunnis and Shites. Yet what has taken place until now is more of a rebellion by distinct resistance forces with broad popular sympathy, giving rise to a tendency for previously dispersed and even hostile communities to draw together in struggle against a common enemy. It could result in a national struggle, as in the 1920s, or not, as the case may be. But in any case, proletarian revolutionaries must be clearly aware that all these forces are hostile to the liberation of the workers and oppressed sectors. The Shiite Islamic fundamentalists have attacked Christian liquor store owners in the south. Above all, women have been the targets of harassment and deadly attacks if they dare to walk in the streets without the Islamic veil. Clearly, in fighting against the occupation forces, Iraqi workers will necessarily have to coordinate with other forces their blows against the invaders. But in this case, the political independence of the working class is a life-or-death question: it is necessary to organize independently of the religious fanatics on both sides, and to be ready to defend the working people, women and minorities against them. The working class must use the power derived from its economic strength and from the fact that it is the only integrated social force including all the ethnic/religious communities in the country.

With a revolutionary internationalist leadership, the workers could be to pole around which a truly anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle would develop. That is quite distinct, however, from the policy today of the main Iraqi parties that claim to be communist. The Communist Party of Iraq even sits in the “Governing Council” which serves as a front for the U.S. and British colonialists. These are genuine puppets, like the quislings of Europe who collaborated with the Nazi occupation regimes in World War II. The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI) has a slightly different position: it criticizes the occupation forces and calls for their withdrawal (but only to be replaced by UN forces). However, in the face of the current rebellion, the WCPI has taken the shameful position of not taking sides, calling for a mythical “third camp.” In reality, no such camp exists in the middle of a war, and in Nasiriya in the south, when a fight broke out against the Italian troops, the WCPI called on the anti-colonial fighters to withdraw from a factory and even called on the colonial authorities to protect it (Forward, 15 April)!

Outside Iraq, particularly in Latin America, among “Third World” nationalist forces claiming to be Marxists and even Trotskyists, there is uncritical enthusiasm for what they portray as an uprising by the whole country against the occupation powers. This is the case of the Argentine PTS (Partido de Trabajadores por el Socialismo – Socialist Workers Party) and its international grouping, the Fracción Trotskista, which sees in the present struggle “a leap involving a growing insurgency, combining guerrilla actions and popular uprisings,” which supposedly lay the bases for unity among the various communities on the basis of armed struggle. But while the PTS/FT talks of Sunni-Shiite unity it makes only the barest reference to the working class, limiting itself to repeating eternal truths without providing any sense of an independent intervention by the working class, either in Iraq or elsewhere in the world, of proletarian action against imperialism.

In the U.S., opportunist leftist groups such as the Workers World Party and International Socialist Organization engage in uncritical cheerleading for the Iraqi insurgents, while building popular-front “peace” marches to channel votes to the imperialist Democrats in November. They keep repeating “bring the troops home,” in the hopes that the capitalist politicians will take up their call (as they did over the Vietnam war). In contrast to these “social-patriotic” calls, as Lenin termed their counterparts in World War I, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International call forthrightly for the defeat of the U.S.-led occupation forces and for international workers mobilization to drive the imperialists out of Iraq. On the other hand, a tendency which for several decades represented the continuity of revolutionary Trotskyism, the International Communist League and its leading section, the Spartacist League in the United States, has not only abandoned the demand but also the policy of revolutionary defeatism toward the imperialists in a colonial war. 

While repeating the reformists’ cry of “U.S. Out Now,” the SL/U.S. has turned its back on the fundamental call for the defeat of “its own” imperialist bourgeoisie in the war on Iraq, as it did previously in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Indeed, it scandalously accuses the IG and LFI of pandering to the “anti-Americanism” of the Islamic fundamentalists and nationalists precisely because we continue today the revolutionary program of Lenin and Trotsky in the middle of an imperialist war. Today, as a tumultuous rebellion is raging against colonial rule in Iraq, the SL talks only of the massacre in Falluja. While it makes a pious gesture in the direction of the blows struck against the imperialists, it treats the Iraqi working masses as if they were nothing but a hodgepodge of Islamic tribalists. Then, in a sentences that is the height of cynicism, they proclaim:

“Marxists seek to mobilize the oppressed masses behind the power of the proletariat in struggle against colonial occupations, using workers mobilizations (strikes, hot-cargoing of military goods and troop transports) in the service of a revolutionary perspective against both the imperialist occupying forces and the domestic bourgeoisie.”
Workers Vanguard, 16 April

All that one can say to this dishonest statement is that this does not represent, in any way, the real politics of the ICL and the SL. Neither in the United States or elsewhere has the ICL called for strikes or workers boycotts of military cargo or troops transport, much less attempted to initiate such action during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the SL abandoned its earlier calls for hot-cargoing military shipments exactly at the point, in October 2002, when the West Coast U.S. dock workers union (the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) as fighting against a management lockout and was threatened by  (and ultimately hit with) a federal injunction by the Bush administration which feared an interruption of the supply chain as it geared up for the war on Iraq. 

It is the LFI which today continues the struggle for authentic Trotskyism in the middle of and under the tremendous pressure of imperialist war; which continues to call for workers action and strikes against the war, and seeks to initiate such actions where it can; which in the face of the petty-bourgeois nationalist and Islamic fundamentalist currents of various stripes, fights for workers revolution, both in Iraq and internationally, from the semicolonial countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America to the imperialist centers themselves. 

Genuine communists seek to be the best fighters against the imperialist invaders, insisting that in order to win democratic rights for women and for all the ethnic/religious communities of Iraq, in order to liberate the hard-pressed peasantry and the urban poor from misery, there is no other road but permanent revolution, led by a Bolshevik party such as Lenin and Trotsky built in tsarist Russia. Today there are a series of attempted opportunist regroupments which claim to “refound” or “reconstruct” the Fourth International, but which actually only try to rearrange the various remnants of the pseudo-Trotskyist tendencies of the past which exploded and imploded due to the contradictions of their tailist politics. The test of Iraq shows once again that, rather than organization recombinations, a tenacious programmatic struggle is required in order to reforge a truly Trotskyist Fourth International. n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com