Iraq after imperialist conquest: What way forward for the Iraqi working class?

We applaud the militants of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq who have been to the forefront in building organisations of the Iraqi working class and women’s organisations. We salute the courage of the WCPI comrades in combating brutal attacks by right wing Islamic forces and also repression by imperialist police forces. We demand the immediate release of WCPI comrades from detention and the end to all attacks by Islamic right wing forces.

A socialist contribution from the Socialist Party (England and Wales) and the Committee for a Workers’ International. CWI online. In Arabic.

What way forward for the Iraqi working class?

To Comrades of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq.

As these experiences show, it is vital that a working class and socialist alternative is built in the new situation in Iraq. Saddam is gone, smashed by his former imperialist backers. But the real opponents of the Ba’athist regime were and are the courageous working class and left-wing militants. Today, Iraqi workers are bravely demanding democratic rights and an end to imperialist conquest.

Naturally there is widespread discussion on what the workers’ movement’s next steps should be. In this spirit the CWI presents this short commentary as the basis to discuss with comrades from the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, as well as other socialists and workers from Iraq, the Middle East and beyond. These comments follow successful co-operation between members of the Socialist Party (CWI section in England and Wales) and members of the WCPI in anti-war activities and also in work to defend the rights of refugees. We trust comrades of the WCPI therefore accept our comments in the comradely manner in which they are intended.

We would like to specifically comment on your leaflet, entitled, ‘The political situation in Iraq after the fall of the Ba’ath regime and our policies’ (dated 18/05/2003), which deals with the current situation in Iraq and the tasks of socialists. There are many points made in this short statement with which we agree. For example, we agree with your general analysis of the motives of the imperialist invasion of Iraq, the demand for the expulsion of imperialism, and the need to build a socialist alternative in Iraq. However we have differences over the role of the UN you advocate in the leaflet, which we specifically comment on below.

Should the UN run Iraq?

Having toppled Saddam, US imperialism is now imposing its own undemocratic rule while preparing to loot Iraq’s rich natural resources, especially oil. But already they are meeting hostility and resistance, including armed attacks by various forces. The majority of Iraqi people correctly view the US/British military in their country as occupying imperialist forces.

US imperialism now hopes to at least partly camouflage its rule by pushing forward the new stooge ‘Governing Council’. Even the United Nations, thrown into crisis by the war drive, may be asked to play a role. The US is keen to share the financial and military costs of the occupation. All this is nothing but a cover for the US occupation. The US regime and its envoys will determine policy and the drive to create some form of pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist regime.

The WCPI 18th May statement opposes the role of US imperialism in Iraq and calls for the removal of imperialist forces. It says, “the future government of Iraq must be decided by the Iraqi people themselves”. However, the resolution goes on to call for “handing administration and peace keeping in Iraq to the UN forces for a provisional period and providing freedom and equal material resources to all political organisations to inform the masses about their alternatives and programs”.

We believe it is a mistake to call for the UN to play this role. In our opinion, the UN is an organisation that is dominated by the big nation states, whose governments, in turn, are dominated by their national ruling class. For over a decade, the UN was responsible for sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of an estimated one million people. This was a policy dictated by US imperialism and other powers. There is no reason to believe that a UN administration in Iraq would not be used by imperialist powers to advance their own interests at the expense of the masses.

In contrast, we call for the establishment of a government that represents the working class and the urban and rural poor. This can only come about through the building of mass workers’ organisations with an independent programme, which struggles against imperialist rule and for a socialist society.

We appreciate, of course, that many workers and poor people may have illusions in the role of the UN, because of lack of an alternative. The spokes people of the ruling class constantly put forward the lie that the UN is an ‘independent’ and ‘neutral’ body that acts as a ‘fair’ and ‘just’ arbiter between disputing nations. There may even be illusions in the EU as well. The pro-capitalist politicians and commentators argue that the UN’s main role is to provide ‘democratic rule’ and humanitarian aid etc. But the truth is the UN is a cover for the policies of the major imperialist powers.

The UN was created at the end of the Second World. The Cold War years meant that the UN was largely paralysed due to the antagonisms and conflict between the contending super powers of US imperialism and the ex-USSR Stalinist state. However this did not stop the imperialists using the UN on occasion as a cover for their policies. The imperialist war against the people of Korea in the 1950s was conducted under the name of the UN.

Since the collapse of the ex-Soviet Union, the UN has been used more openly as a tool of imperialism and was the cover for the first Gulf War and subsequent imperialist interventions in a number of states in the 1990s. However, such were the differences of interests between US/British imperialism, and other powers, like France, Russia, China and Germany, it was impossible for the UN Security Council to authorise the latest Gulf War.

Nevertheless, now that the war is over, the UN may agree to play a role in Iraq, giving cover and assistance to the interests of imperialism. The UN Security Council has already given legitimacy to the imperialist occupation of Iraq when it passed Resolution 1483 on 22 May 2003. Kofi Annan has given his stamp of approval to the US hand picked ‘Governing Council’. His report opens the possibility of the UN helping to police Iraq. Such actions by the UN have nothing to do with wanting to help the working people of Iraq. It reflects the attitude of the other big powers that feel it is more beneficial for them if the UN is involved in post war Iraq.

The record of UN intervention over the last decade is not that of some independent body that works on behalf of humanity, let alone the working masses. UN rule in post conflict Afghanistan, for example, is merely imperialist rule under a different name. The Afghanis still live in absolute poverty and under the rule of reactionary warlords. Even if the UN ran Iraq, it would be with the back-up force of "international community" troops (i.e. Western dominated imperialist forces). It would not be fundamentally different to the present US imperialist control.

However, comrades may ask, what is the practical alternative to a UN-run administration in Iraq? In the current situation in Iraq what can realistically replace imperialist rule?

The CWI believes that the WCPI comrades indicate the way forward in the last paragraph of their 18th May statement that reads:

“The Worker Communist Party of Iraq regards bringing an organised and independent mass movement to the fore behind the socialist alternative and thus to organise the workers and toilers around itself, councils and mass organisations for undertaking the social administration in neighbourhoods, and workplaces and for bringing about direct authority of the masses, an essential factor in deciding the political situation in Iraq an deciding the people’s coming regime. Right now and amid the current situation, the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, struggles zealously for this purpose and calls on the workers and freedom loving people to unite around this alternative and solution.”

The CWI broadly agrees with this statement. We believe self-organisation and struggle by the working masses of Iraq behind a socialist banner is the way to expel imperialism and to set about re-organising society. However, this position would be contradicted by calling for the UN – an imperialist dominated body – to administer Iraq. International experience has shown that the UN is used by the big powers to enforce their will. The UN was used in Timor to help ensure the previously popular ‘Marxist’ guerrilla force, the FRETELIN, dropped its radical demands and was incorporated into an imperialist ‘solution’ for the island. This saw the social aspirations of the masses betrayed.

The WCPI statement calls for UN rule in Iraq, so as to allow, “After six months of free activity for all political parties to inform people about their alternatives in a free and peaceful climate, the future government of Iraq must be decided by the Iraqi people themselves.”

It goes on to ask that, “All political parties must observe and be bounded with the ‘declaration of political freedom’ which must be taken as a principle for settling all problems.”

But how can we trust the UN to allow the introduction of genuine democratic rights for workers and genuine self-determination for Iraq? Behind the façade of local ‘governing bodies’, the UN runs Bosnia Herzegovina in an autocratic manner. The UN High Representative in Bosnia, a leading British capitalist politician, Paddy Ashdown, has the power to make all the real decisions and to over rule decisions of the local parliament. The UN carries out neo-liberal policies and privatisations, breaking up the remnants of the former nationalised economy, thereby further impoverishing the masses. In other words, UN administration means neo-colonial rule in the interests of imperialism and capitalism.

UN rule in Iraq, given the terrible social and economic conditions, and opposition from Iraqis to foreign occupation, would mean oppression of the national and democratic rights of the masses. It is ruled out that the UN would allow genuine “free activity for all political parties…in a free and peaceful climate” or that the UN would agree to the idea that, “the future government of Iraq must be decided by the Iraqi people themselves.”

A UN administration in Iraq would only ever agree to the creation of an Iraqi national parliament with powers if it were confident pro-imperialist and pro-big business parties would dominate the local parliament. Democratic rights under UN rule or, for that matter, under ‘independent’ capitalist rule in Iraq, would, at best, be limited, partial and always liable to be taken away again by the ruling class, if this is in their interests.

The task of expelling imperialism from Iraq, winning democratic rights, and fighting for a new society based on need not greed – a socialist society – is a task of the Iraqi working class, in solidarity with the Arab masses and the working class internationally.

So what should be done now? Often it is useful to ask what can be learnt from the experience of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Russian Revolution. Of course, all historical analogies have their limits, but throughout 1917 the Bolsheviks refused to join, or even support, the pro-capitalist Provisional Government formed by the Social Revolutionaries (SRs) and Mensheviks after the February revolution. Instead, they campaigned to win a majority inside the working class for the idea of, “All Power to the Soviets”, i.e. the socialist revolution. This did not stop them fighting alongside some other parties, like the Mensheviks and SRs, when the revolution was threatened by counter-revolution.

Today, in Iraq, a UN run regime would not be anything like the Russian Provisional Government which arose out of revolution and, for a time, granted some reforms. Generally, the task facing Marxists, so long as they are not in a position to take power, is to strengthen working class activity and organisation by campaigning on immediate issues while simultaneously, in Lenin’s phrase, “patiently explaining” the need for socialist revolution. The last paragraph of the WCPI’s 1 8th May statement sums up many of these points.

The recent war also provoked an unprecedented mass movement of many millions across the globe. As the character of imperialism’s occupation becomes ever clearer, and the occupiers face resistance in Iraq, the mood of working people in the West will increasingly become anti-imperialist. The struggle for national and social liberation in Iraq, and a growing anti-imperialist movement in the West, can combine to force US/British imperialism to withdraw. This is the main lesson of the Vietnam conflict, which saw a historic defeat by US imperialism – due to the heroic social struggle of the Vietnamese people and, crucially, the anti-war movement in the US – despite US imperialism’s huge military and economic power.

Democratic rights

The fight for democratic rights in Iraq today is a crucial struggle. The working class, the rural poor, the youth, and the oppressed minorities will fight the hardest for these rights because they stand to gain the most from them. We fully support the fight for all democratic rights in Iraq, including:

  • For the right to assembly and freedom of speech. Oppose the censorship and anti-democratic actions of US imperialism, right-wing Islamists, and the PUK/KDP.
  • For the right to organise.
  • For the right to strike. Full trade union rights for all. Organise the unorganised, build a mass democratic trade union movement
  • A massive programme of public sector job creation, jobs for all on a living wage. Share the work with no loss of pay, end unemployment. For the linking of the unemployed workers’ movement with the trade union struggles.
  • Fight privatisation. Fight attacks on jobs.
  • For a massive expansion of education. Rebuild the education system.
  • No to the appointment of former Ba’athist officials and US stooges. Fight bribery and corruption.
  • Imperialist forces out of Iraq. No to occupation, no to colonialism. For a mass anti-occupation movement in Iraq and the West. Not another drop of blood – Iraqi, British or American – for imperialist power. Let the Iraqi people decide their own future.
  • No to the imperialist imposed stooge ‘Councils’ and ‘self rule’. For working people to decide their own future. For the immediate convening of a democratically elected constituent assembly, representing the working class, rural poor, and the genuine organisations of the women and youth.

The fight for democratic rights is a fight against US imperialism and its pro-capitalist stooges inside Iraq. Imperialism will use repression against all opposition to its rule and especially against the potentially powerful working class. Advances by the working class will threaten imperialist profits and prestige, and the continued existence of neighbouring Arab dictatorships.

Equally, to exploit the working class the weak Iraqi capitalists require repression, whether by US troops or ‘Iraqis forces’. Without this they would face serious opposition and difficulty in ruling. To win democratic rights, the mass struggle must be democratically organised. Such a struggle can win real reforms.

However, it will quickly come up against the limits of the weak and corrupt capitalist system, which cannot ‘afford’ lasting reforms. Therefore, the fight for democratic rights is fundamentally an anti-capitalist fight. To implement such rights means a determined battle against capitalism itself. To safeguard and extend democratic rights means a battle for an alternative system. The only alternative is socialism – a system based on a democratic government of the urban and rural workers’ and the poor peasants.

For the CWI there is no separation between our democratic demands and our socialist programme – one is intrinsically linked to the other. As well as democratic demands, we think a socialist programme for Iraq should include:

  • The right to self-defence against US imperialist forces, thugs and reactionaries. For united, democratic self-defence organisations of the working class. All arms under the control of elected committees of workers in the districts, factories and workplaces.
  • Nationalise the dominant sectors and companies of the Iraqi economy. For democratic workers’ control and management based on the unions, the workers, and the poor communities.
  • Nationalise land and mining rights, under the democratic control of workers in the industries, poor peasants, and rural workers.
  • For a democratic workers’ government, of the urban and rural proletariat, and the poor peasantry.
  • Bring the economy under the control and planning of a socialist workers’ government. For a socialist plan of production, industry and agriculture – to meet people’s needs not profits.

The WCPI calls for the “immediate resolution of the Kurdish question by going back to the people in Kurdistan themselves in a free and general referendum to choose to stay within the central state as free citizens with equal rights or to separate and establish an independent state.”

We also support and call for the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people. The question is: How is this to be achieved? We believe it is wrong to put any faith in the UN to act as a sponsor to bring about genuine self-determination.

Peace or security has not come to Kurds in northern Iraq and the ‘autonomous zones’. The fall of Saddam has not ended persecution, or national and social oppression. Now reactionary nationalist and religious militias murder Kurd and Arab alike. Under capitalism this region is condemned to economic and social stagnation. Imperialism relies on the dismemberment of Kurdistan and the continued oppression of Kurdish minorities, to maintain “territorial integrity”.

The Kurds are oppressed by several states, including Turkey, Syria and Iran, and also right-wing nationalist forces. The PUK and KDP controlled ‘zones’ are impoverished dictatorships, run to enrich a pro-capitalist and reactionary elite. So-called autonomy has not raised the living standards of the Iraqi Kurds. For the liberation struggle to be successful it must be an anti-imperialist struggle. This means no trust in imperialism, or in agencies of imperialism, like the UN.

Some organisations call for a UN-sponsored referendum in the areas of Iran and Iraq occupied by Kurds. However, imperialism would ensure that the terms of a UN run referendum on the ‘future’ of the Kurds in Iraq would not allow the creation of a genuine, independent Kurdish state (including the right of all the Kurds of the region to decide their future). The big powers fear a genuine Kurdish state would act as a pole of attraction to all the Kurds of the region and to other oppressed minorities, leading to the break up of states and the development of powerful oppositional movements.

The CWI supports a mass anti-imperialist struggle uniting all sections of the working class and exploited. On this basis, the Kurdish people can decide their own future. All Kurds in each part of Kurdistan must be free to take a democratic decision on their future, including whether they wish to form a unitary state or a federation of Kurdish states.

We unconditionally support the right of self-determination for Kurds. But to achieve this requires the socialist transformation of society. This alone can end poverty, tribal divisions, sectarianism, and dictatorship.

  • For the right to self-determination of Kurdish people
  • For a united mass working-class struggle! For democratically accountable armed workers’ and peasants’ self-defence organisations
  • For the defeat of imperialism, and ethnic, national and sectarian divisions
  • Take the resources of the region, especially the oil fields, into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management

For the social and national emancipation of the Arab people good intentions and bravery are not enough. Where this the case the working class would have conquered power decades ago. There have been many workers’ uprisings and revolutionary situations. But to conquer state power, to hold it and, vitally, to spread the revolution internationally, the working class must have its own party – a mass party enjoying the confidence of the working class and the oppressed, and armed with the correct programme, strategy, and tactics. History is littered with failed revolutions: revolutions that collapsed or were aborted due to wrong policies of the mass workers’ organisations.

The Middle East is no exception to this. In fact, the policies of the communist parties in the region led to big defeats of the working class in the 20th Century. Tragically for much of their existence the Communist Parties, under the influence of the Stalinist regime in the former USSR, followed national reformist policies.

The ideas of a “stages” approach to changing society, which included sowing illusions in the supposedly ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ role of sections of the capitalist class, often paved the way to disaster. The working class was either restrained from overthrowing capitalism and/or massacred by the communist parties’ former ‘progressive’ allies. The failed policies of the communist parties paved the way for the rise of illusions in what are false ‘solutions’ to the masses’ plight, such as Arab nationalism and rightwing political Islam.

Lessons of history

In the 21st Century it is vital the old mistakes of the mass workers’ organisations are not repeated. It is crucial that revolutionary socialist parties are built, as part of an international struggle, which can successfully carry through the transformation of society. The current period in Iraq has opened up certain opportunities for the workers’ movement to rebuild itself, for underground organisations to come (relatively) into the open, and, above all, for a powerful socialist alternative to develop. Unfortunately, the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), recently emerging from decades of repression, has decided to join the US imposed ‘Governing Council’.

The Iraqi Communist Party justifies this by claiming the new Council will have “some authorities in various fields, including an active role in restoring security and stability, basic services, aspects of economic-financial and foreign policies” (from an article in the ‘Morning Star’, 22 July 2003, by Salam Ali, member of the ICP central committee). Salam Ali makes a point of saying that UN representative Sergio de Mello “also helped negotiations, meeting various political and social forces, including our party [ICP] – as if this adds legitimacy to the US imposed Governing Council!

In reality, the new Governing Council has minimum powers, which can be over-ruled by the colonial rulers at any time. Real power lies in the hands of US imperialism and its huge military machine, while at the same time this Council has an inbuilt pro-capitalist majority. Given the widespread and growing anti-imperialist mood of the Iraqi masses, and the rising resistance to occupation, the stooge Council and the ICP are both in danger of being seen as imperialist collaborators.

The Iraqi Communist Party says it calls for the Iraqi people to “exercise their right to determine their political future with their own free will and to bring about a speedy end to occupation, restoring Iraq’s national sovereignty and independence and building a free and democratic federal Iraq.” It goes on to say, “This will be the main criterion for evaluating and judging the governing council. Achieving this aim will require relentless efforts to establish a broad coalition of patriotic forces that, on the basis of a patriotic and democratic programme, will be the real driving force in Iraqi politics under occupation.”

Clearly the ICP leadership is repeating the same disastrous policies of the past. It believes the imperialist imposed Council can be a vehicle to end imperialist rule! The appeal to “patriotic forces” is another way of calling for the “progressive” sections of the Iraqi capitalist class to join the ICP’s struggle.

The goal for the ICP is not national and social liberation, and a struggle for socialism, but a “free and democratic federal Iraq”. As we have commented above, this aim is impossible to achieve on the basis of capitalism and under the rule of the reactionary and corrupt capitalist class.

The struggle to end imperialist occupation will require a mass movement. By its very character such a movement would bring demands for fundamental economic and social change onto the agenda. But the “patriotic” forces – the Iraqi capitalists – are only after an ‘independent’ capitalist Iraq, where they will be “free” to exploit the working masses.

Only a socialist leadership of a mass resistance movement to imperialist rule can bring about a fundamental change – the end of colonial occupation and the end of capitalism and landlordism.

In, ‘The political situation in Iraq after the fall of the Ba’ath regime and our policies’ statement, the comrades of the WCPI call for “an organised and independent mass movement to the fore behind the socialist alternative…” We agree with this general perspective, which is different to the demand of the ICP for an “independent, free Iraq”, i.e, an independent capitalist Iraq.

However we strongly argue that for an independent mass movement to be successful in Iraq it must follow an independent class policy. This means building independent class organisations and putting forward a class programme. It means rejecting all capitalist “solutions”, including any role for the UN, as well as rejecting all collaboration with the capitalist class.

We look forward to hearing your opinions on the issues raised in this leaflet and discussing with you further.

Who are the Socialist Party/CWI?

The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). The CWI is a Marxist organisation based in over 35 countries. Following in the tradition of the great Marxists – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – we fight to build a world party of socialist revolution.

The CWI fights for the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a socialist society. This has nothing to do with the Stalinist totalitarian regimes that existed in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Genuine socialism means workers’ democracy – working people running society at all levels.

We look forward to debating our ideas on the Middle East with worker-activists and socialists.

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September 2003