Letter to Norman Geras
It’s not for me to argue whether supporting the Iraq war was liberal or not. I do, and will, however, argue that it certainly was not Socialist, neither logically nor practically.
I will start by taking arms against your assertion that opponents of the war need to annunciate: 'It would be better if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq'. Or: 'It would be better if the torture chambers and all the other paraphernalia of murder and oppression in Iraq were still in place', i.e. that that is their effective position.
This position puts me very much in mind of Bernard Shaw’s letters to the press, in praise of Jack the Ripper, for his having thrown a spotlight on the horrors of the East End. Are we expected to support the actions of powers in terms of their incidental outcomes?
Certainly, we know that alleviating the Iraqis was not a real concern of the Great powers – their hope remained, to the bitter end, for a Palace Coup so that a new dictator could come to power, ensuring the territorial integrity of Iraq and preventing the need to risk their own troops lives. Perhaps Tony Blair was looking forward to dealing with New Ba’ath – with their special New Torture chambers?
While we’re about it – can you say ‘It is better that the House of Fahd continues to rule in Saudi’ or ‘'It is better that the torture chambers and all the other paraphernalia of murder and oppression in Saudi Arabi are still in place'? This is as much your position. After all, we know, from the announcement, shortly after occupation, to pull American troops out of Saudi, that propping up the Tyrants of Arabia was at least one war aim. Removing the American presence that was destabilising a friendly, murderous, torturous regime.
This is not, you’ll note, the ‘Why single out this particular dictator while leaving others in place’ argument (though that is quite a strong one). This is that the active support of reaction was a significant motive and part of the war plan. It is not weighing the removal of one dictator against the failure to remove others (a result which can only be described as a positive good) but weighing the removal of one dictator against the support for another. Kaiser or Tsar?
That, at least, problematises the moral valancey of the war arguments, I hope. I want to discuss class, however.
There can be no doubt that the war has significantly weakened the Iraqi working class. Now, it needs to be understood that by war, I mean the war that has lasted for over ten years, culminating in the current occupation, and consisting of a state of siege which can be said to have strengthened Saddam’s internal power. After all, the arguments over the Sanctions deaths often includes the claim that the starvation was caused by Saddam – I’ll grant that, with the proviso that the state of siege helped him to achieve it.
Now, the workers of Iraq face 60% unemployment, the absence of basic facilities and infrastructure, dangerous factions unleashed, the collapse of civil government, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, state sanctioned murder by occupying forces, etc. It is clear that the war has been grossly detrimental to them, as well as to the workers in the occupying countries. For example the longshoremen in the US were threatened with national security reasons for striking during time of war, the Firefighters here were accused of stabbing British hired killers in the back, etc.
War inevitably damaged the interests of the working class, we who rely so heavily upon an integrated productive system, that the inevitable chaos of war harms us more than the potential gains of that war. Socialists, obviously, would have to support whatever actions the workers took to liberate themselves, but the war in Iraq has not liberated them, has not delivered (and appears unlikely to) democracy. It has, in fact, left most of the Ba’ath secret state apparatus intact, with former police being recalled to their duties under American tutelage.
Indeed, the experience of Afghanistan tells us that tribalism, reaction and anti-democratic politics will triumph, as the US looks around for cultures upon which to found a new hegemon.
All that said, I hope I’ve made clear that I consider that socialists should oppose all wars – as my organisation, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, has done throughout it 100 years of existence. I cannot support leftists who cheer on the ‘resistance’ in their campaign of murdering British, American and Iraqi workers to achieve their political ends. The most important thing for Iraq now is peace, at any price, to allow the working class to grow and be able to organise itself to engage in political action to capture the state machinery as part of a world socialist revolution.