Why Socialists say 'Defend Iraq'!

Neutrality in the Face of Imperialism

Reprinted below is a reply by the International Bolshevik Tendency to an 18 January 2003 leaflet from “an informal group of people in Toronto of varying perspectives (anarchist, communist and others).”

29 January 2003


Your 18 January leaflet, “Against Capitalist War! Against Capitalist Peace!”, raises a question about our position on the pending U.S.-led war against Iraq: “In effect the IBT militarily defends the Ba’athist regime while affording ‘no political support to Saddam Hussein’—but what the hell does that mean?” We are happy to explain.

If you are “politically supporting” an individual or organization it means that you broadly agree with at least some of the ideas, program and perspectives they represent. “Military support” means taking a side in a particular conflict, without necessarily endorsing any or all of the politics or ideology of those you support.

If, for example, a group of anarchists came upon a gang of Nazis attacking a synagogue full of devout Jews, should they refuse to get involved because the congregation’s rabbi is a religious obscurantist or because the synagogue has been fund-raising for the racist Zionist state? Of course not. Any decent person would side with the Jewish congregation (including the rabbi) against the Nazis. This would imply neither an endorsement of Judaic theology nor approval of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians.

If workers in a union controlled by corrupt bureaucrats go on strike against a vicious corporation, or an aboriginal band council led by self-serving careerists resists a government attempt to expropriate their land, revolutionaries are not neutral. We side with the oppressed against their oppressors regardless of their leadership.

The capitalist world economy operates as a mechanism for extracting wealth from the vast majority of humanity for the benefit of a tiny handful. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between imperialist or oppressor countries (Canada, the U.S., France, Britain, etc.) and neo-colonial or oppressed countries (Jamaica, Lebanon, Colombia, Iraq, etc.). Your description of the U.S.-led crusade as an “imperialist drive to dominate the world’s oil reserves” and a “genocidal war” against the people of Iraq implicitly makes this distinction.

It is true that the pending “war is an expression of capitalist competition,” despite the fact that Iraq is not competing with the U.S. The American attempt to seize Iraq’s oil is aimed at increasing its leverage over Japan, Germany, and other imperialist powers. When inter-imperialist competition erupted into military conflict during World Wars I and II, revolutionaries supported neither side, and called on workers in both camps to recognize that their main enemy was at home. Marxists do not determine their policy on the basis of the relative strength of the combatants. Workers have no interest in defending weaker imperialist powers (Canada, Belgium or Austria) against stronger ones (U.S., France or Germany). Nor do we take sides in conflicts between neo-colonies, e.g., Iraq vs. Iran in the 1980s, or Iraq vs. Kuwait in 1990. But when U.S. imperialism organized the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, unleashed contra mercenaries against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and invaded Grenada and Panama in the 1980s, revolutionaries did take sides.

Should revolutionaries have supported the Irish Republicans’ Easter 1916 Rising aimed at driving out the British? We say yes. When Islamic Jihad blew up the U.S. Marine and French Foreign Legion barracks in Lebanon in 1983, we said that regardless of the politically reactionary character of the indigenous resistance, they had every right to drive the imperialists out of their country. (In that instance we had a rather sharp disagreement with the Spartacist League/TL who shamefully called for saving the surviving Marines—see our Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2.)

In the Spanish Civil War both left-anarchists and Trotskyists took up arms on the side of the Stalinist-dominated popular front Republican government against Franco’s fascistic Nationalists. Yet at the same time, the Trotskyist Bolshevik-Leninists and the anarchist Friends of Durruti, unlike the opportunist left, remained adamantly opposed to the popular-front government and actively sought to build a revolutionary movement capable of overthrowing it. Revolutionaries should make an equivalent distinction today and side militarily with Iraq against the imperialist aggressors, while remaining intransigently politically opposed to Saddam Hussein’s bloody regime. This no more means abandoning the perspective of workers’ revolution in Iraq than military support to the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War meant renouncing the fight to overthrow capitalist rule in the Iberian peninsula.

With Communist Greetings,

International Bolshevik Tendency

from 1917 no. 26, 2004

Posted: 18 April 2004