Friday, January 14, 2005


The StWC are right! Well, partially at least...

I'll confess to having no particular love for the British Socialist Workers Party and their sister organizations elsewhere. I don't particularly like their overly simplistic slogans, their quaintly prefab placards, their horrid tabloid three-words-filling-a-whole-page newspaper style, or, indeed, their analysis of the former Soviet Union, with which I disagree strenuously. The same goes for mass organizations strongly influenced by the SWP or their international co-thinkers, such as the Stop the War Coalition.

That does not mean I agree with whatever shit is being flung at them from the right.

On January 4, the international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, Hadi Saleh, member of the Communist Party of Iraq, was brutally murdered. Subsequently, a number of progressive individuals and organizations both anti-war and pro-war, signed an open letter at Labour Friends of Iraq criticizing the Stop the War Coalition for their perceived silence on the murder of Hadi Saleh, as well as arguing that the Stop the War Coalition's perceived blanket support for the Iraqi resistance prevent them from unequivocally condemning Hadi Saleh's murder. The same criticism has been argued elsewhere, here by Johann Hari, here by Harry's Place.

Now, I must agree that the statement issued by the StWC's chairman Andrew Murray, readable here, isn't nearly as strong as I would have liked to read, whereas another statement linked to on the StWC's website, by one Sami Radamani here, succeeds in condemning the murder while all but painting Saleh as a quisling collaborationist, and leaves a slightly odd taste in my mouth.

This said, a lot of the criticism levelled at the StWC recently seems to me to be fundamentally misguided. The statement by Labour Friends of Iraq starts with a statement by the otherwise admirably principled Peter Tatchell:

“The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”. Statement issued by the officers of the Stop the war Coalition, signed by Lindsey German, Convenor, and Andrew Murray, Chair of the StWC.

“Right now, the STWC supports “the resistance” in Iraq by any means necessary – a tacit endorsement of the suicide bombing, hostage-taking and execution of innocent civilians, including brave, selfless aid workers, election supervisors and ordinary Iraqis on their way to school and work. The STWC justifies this carnage in the name of “national liberation” (sic). Motivated more by hatred of the US and British governments than by love for the Iraqi people, many so-called leftists support a “resistance” that, if victorious, would bring to power Baathists, Islamic fundamentalists and pro-al-Qaeda militants. Is that what the left now stands for? Neo-fascism, so long as it is anti-western?”

The problem is here, that, as Lenin's Tomb have pointed out here, and Dead Men Left have pointed out here, the Stop the War Coalition never endorsed a statement supporting the resistance by any means necessary. The phrase in question entered into a proposed motion which was never, in fact, passed by the Stop the War Coalition. Now, whereas Lindsey German or Andrew Murray may be hold personally accountable for that particular phrase, the StWC as a whole, of course, cannot. Politics would become quite funny indeed if every proposed motion would be taken as representative of the group as a whole.

The actual statement of the StWC is this:

The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of the Iraqi people to secure such ends.

This seems to me to be an eminently agreeable position. I do believe that the military resistance against the US, British and allied military is fully justified - for crying out loud, Iraq is under a foreign military occupation; is armed resistance is not justified under such circumstances, when indeed would it be? That does not mean I believe blowing up hundreds of Shi'a pilgrims in Kerbala is justified, or that shooting Iraqi policy and army recruits is justified, or that the beheading of foreign aid workers is justified, or that the murder of Trade Union activists is justified. As Dead Man Left quite rightly points out, even the statement by whatever means they find necessary does not imply such a blanket endorsement of atrocities - since, after all, there are a few guerilla wars going on at the same time in Iraq currently, and obviously the murder of Saleh is not conductive to the liberation of Iraq.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If sincere pro-war progressives like the ones at Harry's place or Johann Hari want to support the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein without necessarily approving of the use of cluster bombs, the razing of Fallujah, the shooting down of unarmed demonstrators, and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib (and I accept that position), then they must allow the same leeway of opinion among their anti-war opponents. Anything else would be intellectual dishonesty.

And hereby, the opponents of the StWC seem, to me, to fall in the same trap where they would believe the StWC fell. There's a range of "resistance" groups currently active in Iraq, with probably (in case of, say, Al-Sadrs Mehdi Army and the Sunni Baathists, definitely) contradictory purposes. A blanket condemnation of the "resistance" as being responsible for Saleh's death seems to me to make as little sense as blanket support of the "resistance" despite the murder of Saleh and so many others.

So, I'm quite at a loss on how to gauge the recent criticism at the StWC. Is it simple intellectual dishonesty, is it a question of some people having jumped the gun after which the story got a life of its own; or is it a question of people cutting some corners in terms of accuracy because of other beefs with the SWP or the Stop the War Coalition? I'm betting on the last one, for now.

After the toppling of Saddam Hussein, there may have been an opening to create the conditions for an Iraqi trade union and workers' movement to arise. That opening was progressively narrowed by the actions of the armed resistance (which Juan Cole believes to be largely Baathist), and by the actions of the occupying forces (such as shooting into a crowd in Fallujah). I think that, technically, a respectable position could have been possible in which the US invasion would be supported until the toppling of the Hussein regime, after which it would have been strongly opposed. But I haven't seen such a position among the "pro-war" left (though some of them, not all, unfortunately, are admittedly critical enough of US excesses).

But the ideology of military humanism, the idea that one can rely on the cruise missiles and cluster bombs of the great powers to defend Enlightenment values, is dead, anyway. It died at Djakovica, the Grdelica Canyon Bridge, Varvarin Bridge, and let's not forget that multi-ethnic eldorado of contemporary Kosovo... Oops! Kosova. The idea of humanitarianism by cluster bomb - never much to begin with, as propagated by such "progressives" as Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair and Susan Sontag was torn asunder there and then, and there is no way it can be sewn back together - but I've been told lobsters can crawl on for some time after having been torn in two, and I'm sure so will the idea of the US Army defending Enlightenment values in Mideastern deserts (while repudiating the Geneva Convention and practising torture of prisoners).

The Stop the War Coalition, and, more widely, the anti-war left can be blamed for a lot of things. For not stopping the war, for instance. For having neglected such matters as the Kurdish question in the ten or so years before the war. And, doubtlessly, for showing too much solidarity with clerical obscurantists and not enough with secular leftists and trade unionists when it mattered. But what they cannot be blamed for is for the war having turned out into an absolute fiasco. When all is said and done, the pro-war left will have issues to think about at least as serious (OK, much more serious, really), than the anti-war portion of it.

- Merlijn

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