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   Vol. 67/No. 14           April 28, 2003  
Revolutionary defeatism
and the Iraq war
(Reply to a reader)
In letters to the editor this week, several readers comment on the Militant’s recent coverage of the U.S.-led assault and occupation of Iraq, and of antiwar protests. Carol Sholin asks that the Militant "run one or more articles on why Marxists call for the defeat of ‘their own’ imperialism in a war, and why working people should not consider a military victory for Washington in Iraq something that will bring safety to the troops."

To respond to Sholin’s question, in a war between an imperialist power and a nation oppressed by imperialism, class-conscious workers always side with the oppressed nation--regardless of its political regime--and argue that the defeat of the imperialists in the war is in the interests of working people everywhere, including those living in the imperialist country. That’s the position taken by the Bolshevik party under the leadership of V.I. Lenin, which led workers and farmers to power in Russia in October 1917.

Writing in 1938, on the eve of World War II, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky summarized this position in an article titled "Lenin and imperialist war." He explained:

"From 1871 to 1914 European capitalism, on the foundation of national states, not only flowered but outlived itself by becoming transformed into monopoly or imperialist capitalism. ‘Imperialism is that stage of capitalism when the latter, after fulfilling everything in its power, begins to decline.’ The cause of the decline lies in this, that the productive forces are fettered by the framework of private property as well as by the boundaries of the national state. Imperialism seeks to divide and redivide the world. In place of national wars there come imperialist wars. They are utterly reactionary in character and are an expression of the impasse, stagnation, and decay of monopoly capital."  
‘Socialists completely on side of oppressed country’
"The world, however, still remains very heterogeneous," Trotsky continued. "The coercive imperialism of advanced nations is able to exist only because backward nations, oppressed nationalities, colonial and semicolonial countries, remain on our planet. The struggle of the oppressed peoples for national unification and national independence is doubly progressive because, on the one side, this prepares more favorable conditions for their own development, while, on the other side, this deals blows to imperialism. That, in particular, is the reason why, in the struggle between a civilized, imperialist, democratic republic and a backward, barbaric monarchy in a colonial country, the socialists are completely on the side of the oppressed country notwithstanding its monarchy and against the oppressor country notwithstanding its ‘democracy.’"

For that reason, socialists supported a victory for Argentina during the 1982 Malvinas war--even though a U.S.-backed military dictatorship ruled the country at the time--when British imperialism launched the Royal Navy against Buenos Aires to put the "Falkland Islands" firmly back under London’s colonial rule. Likewise, the Militant supported a military victory by Baghdad over the imperialist invaders in the just-concluded war, pointing out that such a victory would have strengthened the hand of working people around the world, including the struggles of the Iraqi people against the police-party state run by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S.-British victory in Iraq and occupation of the country by imperialist troops is a blow to working people. That’s why the statement made in the front-page editorial in last week’s Militant, "The unfolding occupation of Iraq is not a major defeat for the working class. That defeat came a long time ago... in the bloody counterrevolution that brought Saddam Hussein to power," is wrong. It contradicts the editorial stance of the paper outlined above, which is based on long-held positions of the communist movement.

Washington’s conquest of Iraq is one in a number of defeats the Iraqi working class has suffered over the past four decades. Among the most devastating of these blows was the coming to power and consolidation of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1970s.

The end of the armed conflict in Iraq will bring a larger measure of "safety to the troops"--the U.S. troops, that is--at least in the short run. The safety of those armed forces, however, is not the starting point for socialists in face of an imperialist assault on a semicolonial nation. They are not "our troops." They are the troops of the imperialist ruling class, which uses its armed forces to police its frontiers, defend its currency, and wage predatory wars to expand its domination over other peoples and their resources. Like all imperialist wars, the U.S.-led assault on Iraq is against the interests of working people both in Iraq and the United States, including workers and farmers in uniform, who are being used as cannon fodder by the rulers.

We welcome the suggestion in Mindy Brudno’s letter for a fuller explanation of how American patriotism is used to boost support for Washington’s foreign and domestic policy. To politically disarm workers, the bosses want working people to think in terms of "we Americans," to accept the false idea that workers and the employers who exploit us have common interests, and the lie that the bosses’ government is "our" government. Trotsky took this up in The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, also written on the eve of the second worldwide imperialist slaughter. He pointed out that the imperialist rulers use terms such as "collective security," and "national defense" to justify their drive toward war. " ‘Defense of the Fatherland?’"--Trotsky asked. "But by this abstraction, the bourgeoisie understands the defense of its profits and plunder. We stand ready to defend the fatherland from foreign capitalists, if we first bind our own capitalists hand and foot and hinder them from attacking foreign fatherlands; if the workers and the farmers of our country become its real masters; if the wealth of the country is transferred from the hands of a tiny minority to the hands of the people; if the army becomes a weapon of the exploited instead of the exploiters."

This is the course the Militant has argued for, including among the thousands of students and others who have taken part in numerous antiwar rallies over the last two months in the United States and other countries.  
Objective shifts, not red-baiting
The Militant urged participation in the large peace rallies in March, as well as the April 12 antiwar demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, advocating slogans such as "End the imperialist assault on Iraq," and "Bring the troops home now." The April 12 action was smaller than previous ones, not because of red-baiting, as the letter by John Harris suggests, but because of the objective situation. With the rapid U.S.-British military victory in Iraq, we’ve seen an increase in the patriotic campaign in all the imperialist countries, including sizable pro war actions, and the caving in by liberal pacifists and most in the middle-class left who have called for "supporting our troops." The coalition that called the April 12 rally, and the action itself, were narrower for these reasons.

The Workers World Party, cited in the news article, is the initiator and main organization leading the ANSWER coalition. Its orientation "against Bush"--shared by its most prominent bourgeois ally, Ramsey Clark--and its argument that large demonstrations of this kind, by themselves, can "stop the war" have helped mislead the youth who turn out at these actions. What’s needed is not an "anti-Bush" perspective, but a proletarian perspective that orients youth and working people to struggle against imperialism and its wars.  
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