On the Freedom Socialist Party's statement on
the third anniversary
of the occupation of Iraq

Prettifying the Iraqi exploiters
in the name of opposing imperialism

by Mark Williams
(CV #38, July 2006)


Hiding Hussein's political tyranny in the name of opposing the US
Sectarian strife and the Iraqi exploiters
How should unity of the masses be built?
Should support for Kurdish national rights depend on the whims of the State Department?
Is the US really trying to foment the territorial division of Iraq?
Is Islamic cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the side of the masses?
Trotskyism undermines the class struggle in the name of fighting imperialism

. The fight against imperialism can only be successful if it is based on the struggles of the masses. As regards the situation in Iraq, this means that we must side with the Iraqi masses not only in their efforts to end the US occupation, but in their battles against the various sections of the Iraqi exploiters. A section of fundamentalist clerics and ex-Baathists are among those fighting the US occupation, but they would impose a new harsh rule over the masses. The Iraqi government, protected by US forces, is dominated by Shia clerical forces and the bourgeois nationalist Kurdish parties. The scramble for power and privileges between rival sections of the Iraqi elite has descended into civil war, with the masses being the victims. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of left trends today that, in the name of opposing the US occupation, downplay the role of the different sections of the Iraqi bourgeoisie in the suffering of the masses. Such a stand means undermining the struggles against oppression. It hides that democratization for the masses in Iraq is not only a matter of getting rid of the occupation, but targeting the internal class enemies. Moreover, the more the masses are under the heel of the local exploiters, the weaker their ability to resist foreign occupation.

. One example of such is a stand is that of the trotskyist Freedom Socialist Party (FSP). The FSP recognizes there are class contradictions in Iraq. But they downplay them because of the US occupation. Thus, when there is a conflict between some reactionary force in Iraq and the US, they tend to prettify the Iraqi reactionaries and forget about the mass struggles against them. To illustrate this, we will here mainly examine the FSP's statement of March 19, 2006 titled FSP statement on the third anniversary of the occupation of Iraq.

Hiding Hussein's political tyranny in the name of opposing the US

. The FSP's tendency to use opposition to the US occupation as an excuse to hide the crimes of the Iraqi exploiters can be seen in how they deal, or rather fail to deal, with the political tyranny of the Hussein regime. Take the issue of the national oppression of the Kurds. From the FSP statement, one would get the impression that prior to the US invasion, there was hardly any oppression of various peoples in Iraq. When they write about Iraq prior to the US invasion, they only talk about the "strong tradition of secularism and significant national unity among its vast mosaic of peoples." No doubt there were feelings of solidarity between the masses of different national, ethnic and religious groups. But there was also Hussein's Baathist dictatorship, which was based on the supremacy of the Sunni bourgeoisie over the Kurds, Shia and other groups. For decades prior to the US invasion, the Kurds have waged a struggle for their national rights while Hussein tried to drown their struggle in blood. Indeed, the FSP elsewhere admits Hussein's atrocities against the Kurds.

. The statement does not mention the Kurdish struggle, their right to self-determination or Hussein's brutality because the FSP believes that the US is intentionally fomenting civil war so as to split Iraq into different pieces. To be against the US, implies the FSP, one must oppose any region splitting off. Thus, a pseudo-anti-imperialist cover is given for ignoring the real causes and cures for Kurdish national oppression. As a matter of fact, the FSP's arguments about the US goals are off the mark. The US has not purposely set about to territorially divide Iraq via a sectarian civil war. The US does not support the right to self-determination for the Kurds, either.

. Also lost in the FSP's warm and fuzzy account of relations between peoples in Iraq under Hussein's Baathist regime is the brutal treatment of the Shia majority under Baathist rule. That's what led to the general uprising in the Shia regions of southern Iraq at the end of the first Gulf War. This is also why the issue of democratization of Iraq has special meaning to the Shia masses. They strongly support just demands like de-Baathification and measures for local self-government.

Sectarian strife and the Iraqi exploiters

. The FSP statement talks only about the sectarian strife going on in Iraq today and is silent on the just demands of the Kurds and other oppressed peoples. This blurs the distinction between legitimate struggles by oppressed peoples and sectarian bloodletting. Meanwhile, for all their professed concern about sectarian violence, the FSP covers up the roots of the present sectarian strife in the rivalries between different sections of the Iraqi exploiters. Let's look at some of the rival groups of Iraqi exploiters and the role they are playing in the sectarian conflict.

. The FSP fails to mention that the Baathist regime's denial of Kurdish rights and discrimination against the Shia and other peoples undermined good will between the masses of different groups. In so doing, the Hussein regime laid the groundwork for much of the sectarian mayhem going on today. Moreover, a section of the Sunni bourgeoisie which lost its privileged position with Hussein's fall seeks to restore their dominant position at the expense of other groups.

. The FSP's extolling of the secular traditions prior to the US occupation omits one of the other major players in stirring sectarian hatreds, the fundamentalist clerics. Shia clerics have turned just demands for de-Baathification into general retribution against the Sunni masses. They have turned demands for local-self government into an excuse to set the masses of different religious groups against one another and to impose the beliefs of their sect on everyone. Sunni fundamentalist groups likewise carry out sectarian attacks on the Shia masses.

. The bourgeois nationalist leaders of the Kurdish movement are also implicated in sectarian violence against minorities in their regions. They have also participated in savage assaults on Sunni cities alongside US troops.

How should unity of the masses be built?

. While the FSP statement doesn't praise Hussein or the Baathists by name, they emphasize how wonderful it was that there was "unity" in the good old days before the US occupation. They forget that the denial of Kurdish self-determination was forced unity, unity based on subjugation. Similarly, the Baath dictatorship kept a lid on fundamentalism, but only through a secular tyranny, the Sunni bourgeoisie lording over other groups, and a general denial of democratic rights. And the police-state that enforced this alleged tranquility was a nightmare for the workers and oppressed peoples. Moreover, beneath the veneer of unity, a volcano of internal conflicts built up that was bound to burst at the first opportunity. Today, unity of the masses is not going to be achieved by fretting about the possibility of part of the present Iraq forming a separate state or wishing for a return to the unity of the iron fist. Nor will unity of the masses be advanced by ignoring the internal roots of the sectarian violence today. What is really needed to overcome the sectarian strife is the growth of class organization and struggle in Iraq.

. A key front of the class struggle in Iraq is the recognition of national rights for the Kurds and ending the discrimination against various other religious and ethnic groups. When a nation oppresses another nation, it forges the chains of its own enslavement. This applies to the nationalities inside Iraq, too. Denial of the right to self-determination is not only an affront to the Kurdish masses, but it is an albatross around the necks of all the working people. It helps spread chauvinism among the workers of the dominant groups, and distrust of workers of the dominant group among the workers of the oppressed group, dividing the workers and weakening the class struggle. The level of suspicion that now exists between the Kurdish and non-Kurdish masses can't be repaired by dictate but by the Kurdish masses seeing that they can freely choose what relationship to have with other groups. Smashing the chains of national enslavement will eliminate a major obstacle to the workers of all groups in Iraq seeing that they share common class interests. Recognition of Kurdish rights will pave the way for a fraternal and voluntary unity of the working people of all nationalities.

. The issue of Kurdish self-determination is but one aspect of the general process of democratiza-tion that the Iraqi masses seek. When Hussein's tyranny fell, it was replaced with the domination of the occupation authorities. Nevertheless, whenever there was an opportunity for free political expression, the masses were enthusiastic to take advantage. New unions were formed, and there were episodic strikes. Women's rights organizations formed and held street demonstrations. Political groups intent on assisting the liberation of the masses spread their organizations and influence. Of course, it wasn't just the masses getting organized, but the previously suppressed bourgeois factions, too. This by no means lessened the importance of democratization for the masses, however. Rather it showed that whenever a degree of freedom existed, the long-quiet class struggle began to come into the open.

. But the process of democratization is facing a grave threat. The occupation is not interested in freedom, but in crushing the anti-occupation masses. That's not the only threat though. The Iraqi bourgeois factions seek to limit the rights of the workers and poor while maximizing the rights of their section of exploiters. The rivalry between sections of the Iraqi exploiters has led to inciting one section of the masses against the other, with tragic results. Various sects of fundamentalist clerics, both inside the government and opposed to it, have set upon one another and the masses in general. That's why it's no small matter that the FSP statement downplays the internal basis of the sectarian violence. It undermines the masses when the FSP creates the impression that fundamentalism would not be a big threat were it not for the US occupation. It blinds the masses to imply that the alternative to sectarian strife is the situation before the occupation, where one sectarian gang of Sunni oppressors, represented by the Hussein regime, kept order by crushing rival sects and the working people.

. It's a sad fact that class organization is presently weak in Iraq. And that weakness allows the bourgeois sects a relatively free hand to incite sectarian hatred. Until the masses are able to regroup in their own organizations of struggle, independent of and against their domestic class enemies, the situation will remain bleak. Talk of unity of the masses in Iraq while giving short shrift to the internal basis of sectarian violence there is empty rhetoric.

Should support for Kurdish national rights
depend on the whims of the State Department?

. While the FSP statement whitewashes the role of the Iraqi exploiters in creating the tragic sectarian bloodletting, it stresses that "the US deliberately foment[s] ethnic antagonisms and civil war" so as to achieve a "balkanized Iraq, divided into small competing fiefdoms." According to this logic, workers targeting the home-grown oppressors weakens the fight against imperialism. But the opposite is actually the case. To the extent that the anti-occupation sections of the Iraqi bourgeoisie hold sway, they divert the anti-occupation struggle into atrocities against the masses of a rival religious, ethnic or national group. This can't help but erode mass support for anti-occupation resistance. Indeed, it plays into the hands of the US which can more easily portray itself as a viable alternative. The FSP talks about how the US incites sectarian violence to justify its continual presence. But if the roots of sectarian violence are actually found in the rivalry between Iraqi exploiters, aren't those exploiters, whether pro- or anti-occupation, helping the US make its presence seem more reasonable? The stronger the influence of trends of the workers and poor and the sharper the lines drawn between them and the sectarian exploiters, the stronger the anti-imperialist struggle will be.

. The FSP statement's assertion that the US plan is to "balkanize Iraq" combined with its silence on the right of self-determination for the Kurds, also implies that support for Kurdish national rights means playing into the hands of US imperialism. Again the FSP gives anti-imperialism a bad name.

. For the moment, let's accept the claim that the US is intentionally fomenting the present civil war in Iraq so as to territorially divide Iraq. Does this mean that the national oppression of the Kurds, as well as the harsh measures against the Shia and others, was just part of some US disinformation campaign? Hardly. The demands of the masses for their rights has roots in the "unity" imposed upon them by the terror of the Baathist dictatorship. Whether or not the US invaded Iraq or plotted to divide it up territorially, these struggles would have gone on. Thus, regardless of what the US policy is, these struggles deserve the support of anyone concerned with the plight of the downtrodden. In some other writings the FSP does acknowledge the oppression of the Kurds and other nationalities. But since they think the US wants to divide Iraq up, they equivocate on the right of self-determination for the Kurds and the struggles against discrimination by other oppressed peoples inside Iraq.

. Genuine communists have long recognized that imperialist powers seek to use particular national liberation struggles for their own imperialist ends. But they have never seen this as a reason to invalidate these struggles. For example, Lenin wrote in point 4 of his 1916 theses, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination, the following:

. "The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain circumstances, be utilized by another 'great' power for its own, equally imperialist, aims, is just as unlikely to make the Social Democrats [revolutionary Marxists then -- M.W.] refuse to recognize the right of nations to self-determination as the numerous cases of the bourgeoisie utilizing republican slogans for the purpose of political deception and financial plunder (as in the Romance countries, for example) are unlikely to make the Social-Democrats reject their republicanism. "(1)

The precise purposes of imperialist meddling in liberation movements varies according to the situation, but the act of meddling does not negate the right of self-determination of oppressed nations. By the standards the FSP applies to Iraq, however, we would have to renounce the national liberation movement in general. Such a stand may reflect their trotskyist ideology but it has nothing in common with Marxism.

. US imperialism has long speculated on the Kurdish struggle. But, out of fear the Kurds might form their own state, it has never actually supported their right to self-determination. The US worries that an independent Kurdish state would encourage an uprising by the oppressed Kurds in Turkey, whose regime is a key ally of the US in the region. Yet, at times, the US has given a certain aid to the Kurdish movement. This aid was not out of concern for the Kurds, but was part of its rivalry with Hussein over domination of the Middle East. While giving aid, it also was ready to withdraw it and allow the Kurds to be pounded, lest the threat of independence jeopardize US regional alliances. Moreover, with its aid, the US sought to strengthen and court the bourgeois sections of the movement and sideline more radical trends. This has resulted in the present rotten alliance between the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) leaderships and the occupation forces.

. Though the situation facing the Shia differs from the Kurds in important ways, the US also played games with the Shia uprising during the first Gulf War. At one point, it encouraged an uprising against Hussein. But the US wound up standing by and letting Hussein carry out bloody retribution against the Shia. They sacrificed the Shia because they ultimately decided their interests lay in a coup of Baathist generals against Hussein and a united Iraq under a revamped Baathist dictatorship.

. This history shows that one's attitude toward the Kurd's right to self-determination cannot depend on what the US State Department is saying at one time or another. Real solidarity with the oppressed peoples is different than the cynical calculations of imperialist sharks. Real anti-imperialist solidarity must be based on what serves the masses. This is what the "anti-imperialism" of the FSP lacks.

Is the US really trying to foment the territorial division of Iraq?

. This history of US meddling in Iraq also shows that the US has not sought to divide it into several states. In fact the US preferred a single state, even a heavily centralized state under Baathist generals who would be friendly to the US. Indeed, at one time the US even backed Hussein himself.

. This brings us to the question of whether today the US is purposely encouraging civil war so as to divide up Iraq into different pieces. The evidence presented by the FSP in this regard is not convincing. In fact if we look a little deeper at the policy of the neo-conservatives who the FSP cites as the architects of the US policy, a different picture emerges.

. There are, of course, activists besides FSP who think the neo-cons' plan is to foment civil war so as to split Iraq into several states. And they may, unlike the FSP, not see this as a reason to prettify Hussein's tyranny, bury the issue of Kurdish national rights, etc. Nevertheless, it is helpful to get as accurate a picture as possible as to what US imperialism is actually up to.

, The FSP quotes neo-con David Wurmser as proposing that Iraq be "ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects and key families." But a closer examination of Wurmser shows that he is not actually for Iraq descending into civil war and splitting into small states. Wurmser's views are spelled out in his 1999 book entitled Tyranny's ally: America's failure to defeat Saddam Hussein. Wurmser argues in this book that the old US policy of relying on a coup of Baathist officers against Hussein has been a debacle. He calls on the US government to support an insurgency of a coalition of groups under the leadership of the US tool, Ahmed Chalabi, and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). The perspective for the insurgency was described by Wurmser as follows:

. "The United States needs to build some form of provisional Iraqi government as a base of support on the ground and to establish it in a territorial entity from which it can incrementally extend its control -- reassembling the fragments of the collapsed tyrannical state along the way. Otherwise, a Somalia- or Yugoslavia-like, warlord-ridden anarchy will ensue in the aftermath of a coup -- much to the detriment of such regional allies as Turkey, Jordan, and Israel, much to the benefit of such regional foes as Iran and Syria.
. "This is the concept behind the formation of the Iraqi National Congress ­ a provisional government ensconced in northern Iraq that serves as a unified umbrella for all opposition factions and steadily whittles away at Saddam's regime territorially while simultaneously, relentlessly undermining it ideologically. It is imperative that we support the INC's pursuit of a fundamental change in Iraq -- for its own merit, and to avoid the prospect of northern Iraq, and eventually all of Iraq, becoming a power vacuum like Lebanon.
. "Maintaining the status quo -- or transferring power to another Baathist regime -- will inexorably result in the disintegration of Iraq. . . ." (Tyranny's ally, p. 120, boldface added)

. This quote makes it clear that when Wurmser is talking about supporting a civil war in Iraq, he is not referring to the present sectarian strife, but to an insurgency to topple Hussein. He sees such an insurgency as more likely to maintain the territorial unity of Iraq than the policy of supporting a coup of Baathist officers which he fears will lead to disintegration. Far from supporting Iraq splitting up, he frets about it. He says Iraq dividing up would play into the hands of US enemies and hurt US allies. True, he talks about "fragments" that will be left in the wake of Hussein's fall. But his intent is to reunite Iraq, not leave it in fragments. Elsewhere in Wurmser's book, one learns that he is not in favor of a highly centralized state. But this is a far cry from the FSP depiction of his views.

. If we go back to 1997, the year FSP says their quote from Wurmser is from, we can also examine Wurmser's November 12 article in the Wall St. Journal called "Iraq needs a revolution." Wurmser here calls for US support for an insurrection against Hussein, but nowhere does he advocate Iraq should be chopped into pieces.

. The FSP quote from Wurmser does appear in an article he wrote in December 1996 entitled Coping with crumbling states: a Western and Israeli balance of power strategy for the Levant. (2) This article presents much the same general approach as his 1999 book referred to above.

. The full sentence of the quote the FSP cites as evidence that Wurmser wants Iraq split into pieces is,

"Some scholars argue that despite their failure, Syria and Iraq can remain united under strong statist institutions, such as a ruling military junta, rather than being ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects and key families."

Notice that Wurmser does not say that he prefers Iraq ripped apart, but merely that it will be ripped apart because the ruling military regimes can not keep it united. Wurmser believes that since the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria will collapse, the task is to insure that the collapse does not lead to sectarian civil war and the creation of fiefdoms. Thus, the article states that

". . . Baathism's days are numbered. The issue here is whether the West and Israel can construct a strategy for limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse that will ensue in order to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance."

Thus, while the article supports hastening the fall of Baathism, it also wants to limit the chaos that this will cause.

. To this end, it presents a plan for Chalabi's INC, backed by Jordan, Israel and the US, to "contain and manage (through its more solid and traditional regime) the scope of the coming chaos in Iraq and most probably in Syria." The traditional regime that Wurmser gives the task of controlling chaos is supposed to borrow the methods of uniting the nation such as existed in the "monarchies under the Hashemites [the present monarchy in Jordan and former monarchy in Iraq--M.W.]." Wurmser does not extol the virtues of Iraq collapsing into mini-states and all-out civil war, but dreams of holding Iraq together as the monarchy did before it was toppled in 1958. Wurmser, of course, pretends that the monarchy is an antidote to tyranny under Baathism rather than another form of tyranny. After all, Wurmser is not really out to do what's best for the Iraqi masses, who overthrew the monarchy, but to create regimes that will be pro-US and friendly to Israel. But that doesn't change the fact that Wurmser sees the new regime as limiting sectarian violence and disintegration of the country.

. Wurmser's article holds that Jordanian monarchy can lead a process of uniting the Iraqi factions because while it is Sunni, in Wurmser's view, "the king also has solid credentials among Shia." Thus, he sums up that "In short, all factions of Iraqi society can live with King Hussein's [the now-deceased King of Jordan -- M.W.] leadership." Far from being excited about Iraq descending into civil war after the Baathists, Wurmser believes the new order will create a more unified nation. He writes:

"Factionalism need not doom efforts to forge nations. Under natural circumstances, these forces could be harnessed through voluntary associations, alliances, and unions as the seeds of real nations. Such was the case in the early 1920's, as the Hashemite King Faisal I of Iraq forged his nation by negotiating tribal alliances and union."

. Indeed, Wurmser warns that if his scenario is not followed, the danger is that Iraq and much of the region will collapse into rival pieces similar to feudal fiefdoms. For instance, he frets that if his Jordanian-backed Hashemite regime fails to displace the influence of Baathist Syria in the region "Jordan, along with the rest of the Levant would first come under Syria's sway, and then later be swept up by Syria's eventual crumbling. Most of the Levant then would crumble into neo-feudalism."

. As it turned out, the neo-cons' plan became a fiasco. Wurmser's idea that the US could set up CIA-asset Chalabi in power with the help of the Jordanian monarchy proved impossible. It required a US invasion and occupation. Even then, the idea of Iraq united under Chalabi quickly fell to pieces. Chalabi couldn't muster any support in Iraq, and eventually even the US had to back away from him. The masses soon tired of the tyranny and false promises of the occupation, and the anti-occupation resistance of the masses spread far and wide. The idea that all the different anti-Hussein sections of the exploiters would peacefully cooperate under a united leadership turned out to be another neo-con pipedream. Rather than peaceful cooperation, there was a mad scramble for the spoils of power by rival factions of the Iraqi elite, including both the forces Wurmser had faith in and the ex-Baathists and fundamentalists who, unfortunately, make up the dominant leadership of the anti-occupation resistance. This is the basis of the present sectarian civil war. The only shred of truth in the FSP's take on Wurmser is that he backed various bourgeois forces in Iraq who, contrary to Wurmser's expectations, helped incite sectarian bloodshed.

. Bush attempted to implement the neo-con plans through the US occupation. But the fact that sectarian strife remains rampant only proves that the neo-cons greatly miscalculated, not that they intended to have Iraq after Hussein descend into civil war. Bush, with bipartisan support, is desperately trying to salvage the situation. In order to prevent the complete disintegration of Iraq the US administration is trying to cobble together a unified Iraqi government. It may turn out that Bush fails to do this, and the Iraqi government collapses and the sectarian violence escalates still more. But in order for the FSP theory to be right, one would have to assume that all the US arm-twisting to work out a power-sharing arrangement among rival factions so as to prevent the government from collapsing is an elaborate hoax. Not only that, the alleged real policy to divide up Iraq would have to be reconciled with the opposite perspective put forward by Wurmser. Not very convincing.

. Neither is the other "evidence" offered by the FSP. They argue the US has set up anti-insurgency death squads like they did in El Salvador in the 1980s. That's a possibility. For sure the US occupation forces have committed numerous atrocities themselves, from the destruction of Fallujah to Abu Ghraib to the recent revelations of the Haditha massacre. Nor is there any doubt that the Iraqi government they are propping up has carried out horrible attacks.

. But it's also true that the US is not happy about everything carried out by various forces in the Iraqi government. The US has its goals in Iraq, and the various factions in the Iraqi government have their own agenda. The US wants to crush anyone fighting the occupation, but because the neo-con plan is also to have a government of compromise between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish exploiters alike, they want to contain the sectarian rivalries. The Bush administration may want to recruit members for death squads from among the Iraqi sectarian militias, but they want death squads under their control. Thus, they have made attempts to get the militias to disarm. The Iraqi exploiters have refused to do so. Why? Because each section of the Iraqi exploiters wants to make sure that their faction controls as much of the new power structures, resources, etc. as possible so as to enrich themselves at the expense of their rival bourgeois factions and the masses in general.

. Thus, while rival sections of the bourgeoisie in Iraq haggle over who gets what government post, the various militias (both within the Iraqi police and armed forces and outside it) have set themselves up as de facto powers who carry out attacks on ordinary people, particularly those who are of a different nationality or religious group. Kurdish militias have terrorized non-Kurdish peoples in their territory, Shia militias have massacred Sunnis. Meanwhile, within the anti-occupation resistance, fanatical Sunni clerics and ex-Baathist forces based mainly in Sunni areas have carried out horrific bombings of civilians.

. The various militias aren't mere pawns of the US, but generally operate under their own command. Shia fundamentalist SCIRI militias aren't waiting for orders from the US military brass. Nor is the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr. Even the Kurdish militias, which have cooperated at various times with US forces, have their own independent leadership. Needless to say, the forces under Islamic fanatics or ex-Baathists within the anti-occupation resistance are not following US orders. Thus, the idea that the sectarian violence is mainly a US plot to divide Iraq into separate territories doesn't hold water.

. This doesn't mean one can justify the terrorist US occupation as an alternative to sectarian violence. Nor does it mean the US hasn't contributed to the sectarian violence. It has, through the desperate conditions it created for the Iraqi people and by propping up an Iraqi regime dominated by sectarian groups. But this does not mean that the US goal is civil war. In the 1980s, the US aided bin Laden-style Islamic extremists in their war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and gave aid to Hussein. But the fact that the US strengthened these dregs did not mean that the subsequent "blowback" against the US was the real intent of the US aid. In fact, the sectarian warfare in Iraq has been a disaster for the Bush administration. It has helped undermine support for the occupation, made imperialist investment all but impossible, made forming an Iraqi government more difficult, etc. The occupation has been more of a fiasco than a well-executed plot.

. The FSP writes "Who are these death squads killing? All who speak out against the occupation." But it's not just those who speak out against the occupation. Yes, the US terrorizes the anti-occupation masses. But the ex-Baathists and anti-US religious zealots also despise the masses, which is why they are willing to blow up anyone who happens to be near a market or a religious shrine. The Kurdish bourgeois nationalist militias hound Turkmen and Shia because they don't want them in heavily Kurdish regions. The Mahdi army launches attacks on leftists who are against the occupation, women's rights supporters, anyone they believe isn't following their particular moral codes, and other religious sects who aren't "pure" enough for them. The Shia militia of SCIRI are carrying out vendettas against Sunni civilians.

. For the FSP though, there's hardly an act of violence in Iraq that isn't a US plot. Take the February 22nd bombing of the Askariya Shia shrine in Samarra which they mention in their statement. The FSP emphasizes the US is behind it. For evidence they quote, among others, the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, saying he "accused occupation forces and Baathists." Does al-Sadr have evidence of the American involvement? In an interview in the May 8 issue of Newsweek the entire answer to the question of why he blamed in part the Americans was as follows: "There is only an incomplete sovereignty in Iraq, which means the occupation is the decision maker. Any attack is their responsibility. The US ambassador and Rumsfeld have ignited the sectarian crisis here." In other words, al-Sadr has no evidence the mosque bombing was a US plot and can only refer to the fact that, in general, the US limits Iraqi sovereignty. It's true that the masses, with good reason, do blame the US for the overall havoc. But this is different than the US organizing these particular attacks, and al-Sadr has no evidence of this. Evidently he is just interested in extricating fundamentalism from any blame. Moreover, according to the FSP's "evidence" from al-Sadr, one has to believe that the US is directing their death squads to collaborate with the Baathists. But wait! Hasn't the FSP told us that the US-organized death squads target those who are trying to drive the US out of Iraq, forces like the Baathist-led militias and Sunnis who support them? One would think the FSP would give some solid evidence to back up a spectacular revelation that while killing the Baathist militias, the US was also helping them bomb Shia shrines. But no. The FSP doesn't bother to offer any evidence of this US-Baathist plot or why other people they cite blame the US but not the Baathists. It's enough for them that some reactionary cleric or the Iraqi vice-president at the time (a leader of the SCIRI) say the US was involved.

. For the FSP, it's not enough to say that the US occupation has been carried out for imperialist aims, has terrorized the masses, destroyed the economy, etc. They feel you must show that whatever bad happens in Iraq has been directly stage-managed by the US. This might seem to be a very bold anti-imperialist stance. But since it doesn't correspond to the reality in Iraq, it actually discredits anti-imperialism. Far from the US being able to have things go neatly according to their plans, they have suffered one failure after another. The plan to install Chalabi in power failed; the idea that the masses would be so grateful to get rid of Saddam that they would love the occupation has gone up in smoke; the plan to delay elections was aborted when even US-friendly forces like Ayatollah al-Sistani called the masses into the streets to oppose US stalling; the plans for opening up Iraq to foreign investment have been undermined by the civil war; and the notion that the militias could be controlled and disbanded collapsed. One could go on and on. What this shows is that US imperialism, for all its military might and rhetorical bluster, has miscalculated at every turn. It shows that far from being omnipotent masters of the situation who can arrange whatever they like, they more often than not are being buffeted around by events and forced to improvise.

. The FSP's claim that the goal of Bush and the neo-cons was to divide up Iraq into several parts and that they are the prime mover behind just about all the sectarian violence is at odds with the facts. It is a case of the FSP trying to make the facts fit into a framework that downplays the class issues in Iraq. First, their Statement ignores the atrocities of the Baathist regime and attributes the start of national and religious strife to the US invasion. Then the basic source of the sectarian conflict in the struggle for power between rival reactionary factions of the Iraqi bourgeoisie is hidden by reducing it to a US conspiracy. And, as we shall now see, the FSP has an affinity for certain fundamentalist thugs in Iraq who happen to have conflicts with the US.

Is Islamic cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the side of the masses?

. In the FSP's newspaper Freedom Socialist, vol. 25, no. 4, there is an article by Megan Cornish entitled Al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army: Iraq's most abused and desperate stand up to empire. (The article can be found on the FSP web site ­ www.socialism.com/). As one might surmise from the title, this article equates the fundamentalist Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr and his armed militia, the Mahdi Army, with the struggle of the downtrodden in Iraq. The article touts al-Sadr as a leader of the Iraqi resistance to US occupation and gushes that "He will stay in leadership only as long as he represents the desperate masses. . . . " Evidently, the FSP thought that al-Sadr deserved to be leading the masses because, he was, for the time being at least, representing them.

. The only hint the FSP article gives that there might already be some problem with al-Sadr is that he supports "Islamic democracy". But Cornish is quick to reassure the reader that this a kindly Islamic rule "dedicated to social justice" and his Mahdi army is not solely under his control but rather is led by presumably enlightened "college-educated" folks. Somehow, Cornish forgot to mention that al-Sadr's Islamic democracy is in reality a strict fundamentalist tyranny. Though the FSP says they're "socialist-feminists" who wouldn't dream of sacrificing women's rights, they don't seem too curious about exploring al-Sadr's anti-woman fundamentalism too deeply. Likewise, they don't mention that al-Sadr is dedicated to eradicating the secular left in Iraq who are organizing workers, the unemployed and women. Al-Sadr's militias have also appointed themselves the morality police in the neighborhoods they control and are liable to beat or kill anyone who doesn't go along with their "democratic" Islamic doctrine. It's also notable that al-Sadr opposes the right to self-determination of the Kurds.

. Meanwhile, while al-Sadr still has certain conflicts with the US, he also is willing to tolerate a US presence for the time being. After all, forces he backs have entered the US-backed Iraqi government. This is in line with his announced replacing of his military struggle against the occupation with a political struggle. Also in line with his greater tolerance for the occupation is al-Sadr's May 8 Newsweek interview where he says "I demand a timetable [for withdrawal]. Even if it is for a long time, it doesn't mean it isn't possible to have a timetable for it." That's hardly the same as the demand for immediate withdrawal of US troops.

. No doubt al-Sadr has a following among sections of poor Shia. And the fact that al-Sadr gets a response from the masses when he denounces the occupation or speaks about the needs of the poor shows their hatred of the occupation and desire for class justice. But this only highlights the need to expose how al-Sadr is diverting just sentiments of the masses toward reactionary goals. Glorifying al-Sadr's role in the anti-occupation struggle and the social struggles betrays both.

Trotskyism undermines the class struggle in the name of fighting imperialism

. The FSP's downplaying of the internal class contradictions in Iraq in the name of anti-imperialism is typical of Trotskyism. Trotsky's theorizing on the anti-colonial struggles and the right of self-determination for oppressed nations betrays similar problems.

. Trotsky considered certain anti-colonial struggles progressive if he thought the national struggle would immediately develop into a socialist revolution. Where the struggle clearly wasn't going to quickly pass over to socialism, Trotsky developed a pattern of automatically supporting the rulers in the subordinate country in their conflicts with the imperialist powers, regardless of the aims of the subordinate government in the conflict and regardless of the extent of the contradiction between these rulers and the working masses.

. This leads current trotskyists, even those who curse the reactionary regimes in the former colonies and dependent countries, to find various ways to support the reactionary regimes and backward forces in conflict with the US. It's just such an approach we see from the FSP. In the name of anti-imperialism, they find ways to prettify Hussein's rule and fundamentalism, and obscure the role of the rival Iraqi elites in the sectarian tragedy. As it turns out, the FSP has done more than prettify Hussein. In Gulf War I, they cheered on Hussein's war efforts as a mighty blow for the cause of anti-imperialism. They wrote that an Iraqi victory in the war would have wonderful consequences for the masses in the Middle East. It would supposedly lead to a huge revolt of the masses against imperialist domination and overthrow capitalism because "coffins are already being prepared for the Arab bourgeoisie." They ignored that a victory for Hussein would actually have meant more coffins for the Kurds, more slaughter of the Iraqi masses in Hussein's military adventures, and consolidation of his brutal rule. Back then they couldn't see that to stand with the masses, one had to oppose both the US and Hussein. And today they identify with enemies of the masses like Moqtada al-Sadr as a force against US imperialism.

. The FSP's equivocation on the right to self-determination inside Iraq reflects Trotsky's skepticism about the right to self-determination. While supporting certain anti-colonial struggles, Trotsky theorized against the right to self-determination. He didn't attack the term directly, but stressed that in the era of imperialism, the "national state" was outdated as a progressive demand anywhere in the world. But in fact the right to self-determination, which includes the right to form a new national state, was not outdated for various oppressed peoples around the world who were under the yoke of the big imperialist powers or certain other states. The national liberation struggles were progressive even without passing on to socialism because, like all democratic struggles, they cleared the ground for greater class development and class struggle. Moreover, the recognition of the right to self-determination by the workers of the oppressor country was vital to build ties with the workers in the colonies and dependent countries. It's also notable that just as Trotsky, in his time, ignored the issue of the right of self-determination for subject nationalities in Haile Selassie's Ethiopia and glamorized the role of Selassie in Ethiopia's just struggle against occupation by fascist Italy, today's trotskyists often brush aside the national issues inside countries that were once part of the colonial empires.

. The FSP is loyal to the legacy of Trotsky, but that legacy undermines real anti-imperialism.


(1) Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 22, p. 148. (Return to text)

(2) The Levant is a geographical area that is often interpreted as including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and parts of Turkey. Wurmser's December 1996 article can be found on the website of The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies at www.IASPS.org. (Text)

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August 10, 2006.
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