The experience of the war and the fiasco of
"military support" for Saddam Hussein

Building an anti-imperialist movement, or
putting hopes in Hussein's military? (part two)

(from the Workers Advocate Supplement, April 20, 1991)


SL's "military support" for Hussein's regime meant opposing his overthrow
Embarrassment over the popular rebellion
What do the Iraqi masses think?
Were there only two sides in this war?
SL's "anti-imperialism" without the people
The movement of the oppressed

. The mass slaughter of the Persian Gulf war has ended, and its bloody aftermath is upon us. The course of the war and the anti-war movement has put various political trends to a test. What has experience shown?

. First and foremost, American imperialism has exposed itself in the eyes of a new generation of activists. American intervention for oil and empire was not a mistake, but the ingrained vice of the whole capitalist establishment. The reformists advocated faith in the Democratic Party, in Congress, and in the United Nations, and one after another all those institutions were shown as participants and organizers of imperialist war. Both capitalist parties were parties of war and imperialism, while the UN showed itself as the overall voice of Western imperialism.

. But the experience of the war was just as harsh on those who advocated "military support" for Hussein's regime. A variety of Trotskyist groups, and groups descended from Trotskyism, advocated support for the military efforts of Saddam Hussein in the name of "defending Iraq" or of "victory to Iraq". But events has shown that this had nothing to do with anti-imperialism, building the anti- war movement, or defense of the Iraqi toilers. These groups had a sectarian stand in the anti-war movement, and were more interested in forcing the tyrant Hussein down people's throats than in exposing imperialism. The maneuvers of Hussein verified over and over that his war had nothing to do with the fight against imperialism. And when the masses of Iraqis rose up and attempted to topple Hussein immediately after the war, it embarrassed the advocates of "military support" for the regime.

. In the February 20 issue of the Supplement, we dealt with some of the arguments of the Trotskyist Spartacist League against our Party's stand of anti-imperialist work in the anti-war movement. In the March 15 and April 12 issues of SL's Workers Vanguard, they have replied to us. The March 15 issue deals with the question of "military support" for Hussein, and we have reprinted it in its entirety in this issue of the Supplement. We shall show that it verifies completely our description of the Spartacists as people who can see no further than the powers-that-be. Their "anti-imperialism" is an anti-imperialism that has little do with the independent motion of the toilers. And their revolutionary-sounding slogans end up again and again only as play-acting, sectarianism, or "military support" for the crimes of the corrupt world of exploiters, from Saddam Hussein to the revisionist, state-capitalist regimes.

SL's "military support" for Hussein's regime
meant opposing his overthrow

. The SL claims, in its article against us, that it had ben "calling for the working people of Iraq to work for the overthrow of the bloody Ba'athist regime. " Yet, in the same article, it goes on to ridicule any Iraqi who dared to turn the guns around against the Iraqi regime as a US puppet. Here is what it says.

. "And if this [the Persian Gulf war] is an 'unjust war on both sides [as MLP says],' does this mean that they [the MLP] call upon Iraqi soldiers to turn their guns around? This would have been quite pleasing to Washington, which hoped that its terror bombing would provoke a rebellion of officers in Iraq who would then fire in the same direction as Washington's troops. In other words, an organization that sought to put the MLP's line into practice in Iraq could only play a quisling role as U. S. puppets in the face of imperialist attack. "

. What does it mean to "turn their guns around". This is a poetic description of overthrowing the regime. To denounce turning the guns around, means to denounce overthrowing the regime. It means to pledge political loyalty to Hussein's government.

. Did the U. S. government really want the Iraqi masses to overthrow the Ba'ath tyranny?

. In fact, SL itself admits that Washington wanted "a rebellion of officers" in Iraq, that is, the continuation of the Ba'ath regime but with a different tyrant at its head. In a separate article in its March 15 issue, SL also admitted that Washington did not want an overthrow of Saddam by the masses, and they quoted an American official saying that "it's far easier to deal with a tame Saddam than with an unknown quantity". (WV, p. 15, col. 1)

. Nevertheless, knowing full well that Washington doesn't want the Ba'ath regime overthrown, knowing full well that Washington is even tacitly cooperating with Hussein against the masses, the foul-mouthed SL scribblers denounce "turning the guns around" as the activity of U. S. puppets.

. Now one can see how the SL uses empty and meaningless words to cover up their opposition to the mass struggle. Oh yes, they are against Hussein. They are for the purest of pure revolutions. Just so long as it doesn't "turn the guns around". Just so long as it doesn't overthrow the regime.

. And this venom by SL against "turning the guns around" is no accident, no slip of the pen.

. In our previous article, we also noted that SL defended its stand on "defending Iraq" by quoting an article from Trotsky that talked about "the duty to choose between two dictators". (See the Supplement, February 20, p. 27, col.2.) Underneath all the rhetoric, SL's stand amounts to support for tyranny.

Embarrassment over the popular rebellion

. When the popular rebellions broke out against Hussein, the various advocates of the "defend Iraq" slogan were embarrassed. Some implied that this might simply be a US plot, or a plot of neighboring regimes. They all took a stand-offish attitude.

. The SL recognized that these rebellions were not supported by US imperialism. (This was not a mark of special virtue, since every bourgeois newspaper in the country was trumpeting the Bush administration's worry about these rebellions. ) But it was stand-offish anyway. Its main concern was to lecture that, no matter, the "defend Iraq" slogan had been right.

. Take the lead article in the March 15 Workers Vanguard. It denounces the bloody, savage US imperialist crimes against the Iraqis. But when it gets to the mass rebellions, it merely reports briefly on it without much feeling. It mainly refers to Washington's attitude "as anti-government fighting broke out in Iraq." There are a few sentences about Washington being worried about this "Pandora's box". There is no expression of support, no slogan about the struggle, no passion or fire at all. There was no talk of support for the Iraqi masses, whether "military" or "political" or critical or otherwise.

. The March 29 issue just overlooks the whole issue, even though it carries a front page article on the aftermath of the war. As it ignores the rebellion, it naturally also fails to denounce US imperialism for helping the suppression of the rebellion.

. The April 12 issue finally carries an article on the rebellions, a somewhat lengthy one. But once again, what SL shows real passion for is--arguing against various Kurds for the "defend Iraq" slogan. It has the tact not to call the Kurds quislings and traitors. But this is only a ruse, because as we have seen, SL stressed that any Iraqi organization that thought about "turning the guns around" would just be a bunch of traitors and puppets.

. The SL tells the victims of the Iraqi regime that "'the enemy of my enemy is not my friend' is not always a good maxim. " Tt is definitely true that US imperialism is not only a butcher of the Iraqi masses in general, but a cynical oppressor of the Kurds in particular. And it is true that there is confusion among the Iraqi masses about the relationship of Ba'ath tyranny and imperialism. But unfortunately the SL hasn't learned the lesson itself. Or it would realize that this same lesson shows that Hussein was no friend, and the Persian Gulf war was really unjust on both sides.

What do the Iraqi masses think?

. Nevertheless, the rebellions show a lot about the mass temper in Iraq.

. In its article against us, the SL gets on its high horse and declares:

. "Any Iraqi worker or peasant, soldier, mother, father or youth who burns with anger against the mass murderers who turned their country into a killing field could only despise those leftists who refuse to support a war against the imperialist aggressors. "

. But the rebellion tells another story. And in its own article in the April 12 issue, it is the SL which is frantic for fear that Iraqi Kurds will regard it with disgust and loathing for its "defend Iraq" slogan, which they recognize as support for the government of Iraq.

. The Persian Gulf war was not a noble war against imperialism. It was fought for sordid gains. Hussein took Iraq into yet another war to establish the Ba'ath regime as a regional power, to get a bit more oil money, etc. And so it is no wonder that the Iraqi workers and peasants have quite another idea about the Hussein regime than the SL.

. Undoubtedly there is a just and noble hatred against the US imperialist ravaging of the country and mass murder of Iraqis. But there is also anger at Hussein for his oppression of the masses, his mass murder of Kurds and opponents, and his driving Iraq into one war after another.

Were there only two sides in this war?

. The SL's polemic shouts over and over again that there were only two sides in the war. There was Washington, and there was Hussein. There was the Pentagon, and there were Hussein's armies. Over and over, they assert that anyone who didn't back Hussein's military efforts was helping Washington commit crimes against the Iraqi masses. They become quite emotional and strident and hoarse with their indignation.

. But emotionalism isn't the best argument.

. There was another side to this struggle. There was the side of the masses. There are the Iraqi workers and peasants, and there are the anti-war activists and progressive people in the US. And the interests of the masses was diametrically opposed to both sides in this war.

. Despite what the SL liars say, the MLP was not "neutral" or "pacifist" or "liberal" in this war. We fought with enthusiasm and determination against this mass slaughter. We encouraged the only just and progressive side in this war--the side of the masses, and we tirelessly exposed the Democratic Party liberals, the Congress, the UN, and the entire imperialist establishment. We worked to build up an anti-imperialist movement in the US, and we supported the interests of the Iraqi toilers and the anti-war protests in the Middle East. We brought anti-imperialist slogans and agitation among the masses, and denounced US imperialism as our chief enemy. But, as the tacit cooperation between Hussein and Washington in oppressing the Iraqi masses shows, it is impossible to be anti-imperialist without opposing the oppressive Ba'ath regime in Iraq as well.

. When SL argues that there are only two sides to this struggle, it is not making a revolutionary statement against imperialism. It is echoing, from the flip side, the imperialist propaganda that is blasted at us every day from the newspapers, the TV, and the radio. Washington too agrees that there are only two sides--Bush or Hussein, the Pentagon war machine or Hussein's military.

. SL's stand amounts to overlooking the working masses. It amounts to only believing in the power of the present governments and their oppressive institutions. It amounts to despair in the real possibilities of encouraging an independent mass struggle. It doesn't matter how many slogans about revolution in the future SL gives--when it can't even see the side of the masses in the present Persian Gulf war, it is acting as unenlightened slaves awed by the power of their masters.

SL's "anti-imperialism" without the people

. In order to justify this stand, SL has taken to tearing statements from Lenin out of context, and interpreting them to mean their opposites. For example, the SL has raised repeatedly the following sentence from Lenin:

. "For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be 'just' and 'defensive' wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack: any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressive, slave-holding and predatory 'Great' Powers. "
. (Lenin, Socialism and War, 'Collected Works', Vol. 21, pp. 300-301)

. How did SL interpret this sentence? They wrote the following:

"When Lenin wrote this, Morocco was ruled by the sultan Mulai Yusuf, Persia by the military dictator Ephraim Khan and China by the warlord Y|an Shih-kai--rulers just as bloody and reactionary as Iraq's Saddam Hussein. "
. (Cited in the Supplement, Feb. 20, p. 28)

. SL clearly is implying that Lenin meant that one should give "military support" to notorious oppressors like Mulai Yusuf, or Y|an Shih-kai, or Ephraim Khan. We showed that SL was coming out in support of past oppressors to justify support for today's oppressor.

. Lenin was referring to movements against national oppression and imperialist domination, which the Persian Gulf war was not. But we also went into the situation in Morocco, Persia, and China of that time. We showed that Lenin was not referring to struggles led by these notorious oppressors, but to struggles which would be opposed by or strike against the sultan Mulai Yusuf, the military dictator Ephraim Khan, and the warlord Y|an Shih-kai. The SL, for all its socialist talk, was overlooking the class alignments in the oppressed countries, and the actual relation of notorious oppressors to the imperialist domination of the oppressed countries.

. How does SL reply to this?

. It quotes the same sentence from Lenin again, and it again talks of the reactionary rulers in the oppressed countries. And then SL carefully avoids the question of what stand Mulai Yusuf, Ephraim Khan, and Y|an Shih-kai had to imperialism. It even prefers not to mention them by name, but just to refer to them in general. It has no answer.

. So instead SL turns to a general issue. If it can't show that these reactionary rulers were anti-imperialists, it tries to show that there is no alternative to them. It implies that there is no movement separate from these rulers, or at least that Lenin wasn't referring to such a phantom. It seems that not only is the SL mad at the anti-war movement in the US, not only does it declare this movement worthless, but it is revealing the same attitude to the mass anti-imperialist movement in the oppressed countries.

. Here is what SL says:

. "The MLP wants to claim that in Socialism and War, Lenin was not speaking of a war against imperialism by the bourgeois rulers but rather a 'revival of the revolutionary movement. ' Not so. Lenin stated explicitly:
. "To the extent that the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation struggles against the oppressing one, we are always, in every case, and more resolutely than anyone else, for it, because we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. " ("On the Right of Nations to Self-Determination", February-May 1914 [Collected Works, vol. 20, pp. 411-2, about midway through section 4. " 'Practicality' in the National Question"])

. Apparently, SL believes that there are two categories, bourgeois rulers and the movement, and this statement backs support for the bourgeois rulers. And wow, SL thinks, it does it in the "staunchest and most consistent" way. Just like how SL backs Hussein.

. Actually, Lenin is discussing national movements, and the cases where the bourgeoisie was leading a national movement in which class differentiation hasn't taken place. The statement doesn't directly speak to the question of who is in the government. Indeed such a national movement, even if the bourgeoisie is leading it, may well be opposed by various reactionary sultans, military dictators, and warlords. Nor does the statement contrast military and political support, but we will deal with the issue of military versus political support in a later section of this article.

The movement of the oppressed

. For the time being, we shall restrict ourselves to a single point. SL is denying that the anti-imperialist struggle is based on the popular movement of the masses, and contrasting it to the struggle of rulers. Leninist communism, on the contrary, is based on the struggle of the oppressed masses. SL states that "we can cite any number of other quotes from Lenin" making their point. But we shall show that in every single work of Lenin's cited in SL's article, SL is hiding the fact that Lenin is talking about the movement. It would have been better if SL had read a single important work through to the conclusion and pondered it, rather than simply tear isolated sentences at random from one work after another.

. First of all, let us consider the "Right of Nations to Self-Determination" from which the above sentence comes from. This work clarifies over and over again that it is referring to mass national movements. For example, consider this general description of the national struggle:

. "The conclusion that follows from all these critical remarks of Marx's is clear: the working class should be the last to make a fetish of the national question, since the development of capitalism does not necessarily awaken all nations to independent life. But to brush aside the mass national movements once they have started, and to refuse to support what is progressive in them means, in effect, pandering to nationalistic prejudices, that is, recognizing 'one's own nation' as a model nation (or, we would add, one possessing the exclusive privilege of forming a state). " (From Section 8 "The Utopian Karl Marx and the Practical Rosa Luxemburg", underlining added)

. Or again, consider the opening passages in this work where Lenin sets the theme he is dealing with:

". . . This is not the first time that national movements have arisen in Russia, nor are they peculiar to that country alone. Throughout the world, the period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements. "
. (From the third paragraph of Section 1 "What is meant by the self-determination of Nations?")

. Well, what about the work Socialism and War itself? It refers to the development of a mass movement, and talks of this development as being the key to whether a war is a just war. It states:

"In China, Persia, India and other dependent countries. . . we have seen during the past decades a policy of rousing tens and hundreds of millions of people to a national life, of their liberation from the reactionary 'Great Powers' oppression. A war waged on such a historical basis can even today be a bourgeois-progressive war of national liberation. "
. (From the section "War is the continuation of politics by other (i.e. : violent) 'means' '')

. Here we see a concept opposite to SL's rhetoric. SL defends wars by reactionary tyrants who have been sitting on the workers and peasants, on the grounds that they may awake the masses. Lenin, on the contrary, argues that only if there has been a policy of awakening the masses can the war be a just one.

. What about Lenin's Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial Questions at the Second Congress of the CI? SL cites it as a trump card, because it refers to the division of the world into oppressed and oppressor nations. It hasn't even entered SL's sectarian head that recognition of this division is important in order to support revolutionary and anti-imperialist movements. No, SL handles it as if it were a mere geographical concept, having nothing to do with mass movements.

. However, it turns out that in Lenin's report and the discussion at Second Congress, the focus was placed on the national movements and their nature. This discussion is entirely alien to the support of tyrants sitting on the movement, such as Hussein, and it would have been considered a monstrosity at that Congress. So, consider Lenin's remarks:

. "Third, I should like especially to emphasize the question of the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. This is a question that has given rise to certain differences. We have discussed whether it would be right or wrong, in principle and in theory to state the Communist International and the Communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. [Mind you, they are debating whether to support this movement--it didn't enter their minds to debate whether to support the sultan Mulai Yusuf and other tyrants SL puts forward as similar to Hussein--WA Supplement. ] As a result of our discussion, we have arrived at the unanimous decision to speak of the national-revolutionary movement rather than of the 'bourgeois-democratic' movement. It is beyond doubt that any national movement can only be a bourgeois- democratic movement, since the overwhelming mass of the population in the backward countries consists of peasants who represent bourgeois-capitalist relationships. . . . However, the objections have been raised that, if we speak of the bourgeois- democratic movement, we shall be obliterating all distinctions between the reformist and the revolutionary movements. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries, . . . "

. The SL also tries to garner support from Lenin's letter about what was to be done during the attempt by General Kornilov to stage a right-wing military coup against the Kerensky government in Russia in 1917. Here SL switchs over to an illustration from an imperialist country, as Russia was still imperialist under the Provisional Government of 1917. It is an example with little to do with Iraq, since Russia at that time was in the midst of a revolutionary movement, with the Provisional Government being blown this way and that, while the Ba'ath regime has an iron rule repressing all the political life in the country. And, by the way, even in this situation Lenin refused to issue the "defend Russia" slogan against the other imperialist powers in World War I, while SL is advocating the "defend Iraq" slogan.

. Nevertheless, it is a most interesting and important example, which our Party discussed in 1985 with respect to united front tactics. (See the May 1, 1985 issue of the Supplement, pp. 31-32, "The Bolsheviks in the fight against the Kornilov revolt", which was a section of the article "Some Notes on the Seventh World Congress of the CI". ) We shall deal with this example again later on, but for now let us note two things.

. First of all, the SL is giving the very line that Lenin denounced in his letter to the Central Committee cited by SL. Lenin stated definitively "Even now we must not support Kerensky's government. This is unprincipled. " (To the Central Committee of the R. S. D. L. P. , Collected Works, vol. 25, p. 285, emphasis in the original) Lenin held that the form of the struggle against Kerensky must change, and that the Bolsheviks should fight Kornilov, as Kerensky was posturing about and as Kerensky's troops were actually doing. But nevertheless "there is a rather subtle difference" between this and supporting Kerensky.

. And secondly, Lenin emphasized that the question was not phrases about the Provisional Government, but dealing with the revolutionary mass movement. Even in presenting demands on the Provisional Government, the basic thing was that "We must present these demands not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky, as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the course of the struggle against Kornilov. " Carried away by what? By phrases which meant essentially what SL's "military support" means.

. And finally, SL uses one more quote. This too concerns the movement in imperialist countries, rather than directly discussing the oppressed countries. SL cites Lenin's article "The Tasks of the Third International/Ramsay MacDonald on the Third International" saying that mere verbal condemnation of imperialism cannot be accepted, but a real revolutionary struggle must be waged for the liberation of the colonies.

. But how does Lenin distinguish a merely verbal struggle from a real struggle? Does he call for support for the sultan Mulai Yusuf and other tyrants who were in league with imperialism, as SL claims he does? Not at all. He calls for, among other things, support for the revolutionary movement in the colonies. He says that a party which "does not systematically assist the revolutionary work which has already begun everywhere in the colonies, and does not send arms and literature to the revolutionary parties in the colonies, is a party of scoundrels and traitors." (Collected Works, vol. 29, pp. 505-6) Imagine what he would think of those who rendered "military support" not to the revolutionary parties in the colonies, but the sultan Mulai Yusufs!

. In the next installment we shall deal with SL's contrast of "military" versus "political" support, more on the movement in the U. S. , and other issues. <>

Back to main page, how to order CV, write us!

Last changed on March 14, 2003.