The Left

Strange contradiction

Reader Clive, a member of the left-wing group the Alliance for Workers Liberty, points out an article of his on the anti-war movement. It is well worth a read if you are interested in the ‘thinking wing’ of the anti-war movement.

Although I obviously don’t agree with the AWL’s opposition to the war, it has to be said that they are the only organised group on the Marxist left who have at least had the honesty to stare some of the dillemas of their position in the face and the guts to criticise the politics of the SWP and their fellow travellers.

Clive makes some telling points in his article but as in the pre-war debate I am left with the feeling that the AWL are on the brink of getting it right over Iraq but then step back for some reason. The result is we are left with a strange contradiction.

Take the issue of the anti-war movements call to ‘end the occupation’:

And it has to be confronted by all of us demonstrating against occupation that an immediate – that is, tomorrow – withdrawal would lead either to the return of the Ba’th, the coming to power of some Islamist faction, or more probably simply descent into civil war and far worse chaos and violence than currently exists. Those who call for the United Nations to replace the Americans, British, etc, have a profoundly misplaced faith in the UN; but they are at least facing a truth.

There is nothing “revolutionary” about demanding “troops out now” if the result sets back the development of a democratic working class movement in Iraq. A revolutionary policy can say “end the occupation” only if focuses on helping to build, in the first place by solidarity, those forces who can replace the occupation with something better.

Quite right. The slogan “end the occupation” is, at this particularly moment, a mistake.

So why did the AWL help organise and then attend a demonstration under that very slogan?

The answer is perhaps to be found in Clive’s comments to another post below. Whilst broadly agreeing with the criticism I made of the nihilist left, he says: The task, I think, is how to avoid moving from this criticism to the ‘other’ camp – effective support for the most powerful ruling class on earth, ever in history. Steering the course – developing what some American Marxists called the ‘third camp’ – is not easy. But I worry that what some people are advocating here is simply a collapse of the left, not a justified critique of it.

I still don’t see why supporting the removal of the Ba’athist regime, even when the act was carried out by US armed forces, involved “effective support for the most powerful ruling class on earth”. Certainly not in a general sense.

But yes, for those on the left, it did involve a compromise and in backing the US intervention the pro-war left can be accused of giving a green light to the US’s other, geo-political and economic agendas in Iraq.

The AWL also made a compromise though. They opposed Saddam but they opted to participate in Stop the War. They chose to put their opposition to the US above the liberation of the Iraqi people.

So there was no pure leftist position to take on the war which did not involve some compromise with forces that are alien to the left.

Perhaps it is easier for those individuals who made up the diverse opinions of the pro-intervention left – we don’t have party members or rival factions to contend with. But I think that support for a war led by democratic nations aiming to remove a dictatorship and install a democracy was more compatible with socialist values than a position which left the dictator free to continue his slaughter.