The ‘Third Camp’ Illusion

I promised I’d get back to that little jibe in the otherwise excellent Workers Liberty article on reactionary ‘anti-imperialism’ but others have beaten me to it.

Nonetheless I think it is still worth dealing with simply because of the novelty of someone, even in a dismissive manner, addressing the pro-regime change left. After all, most of the time the anti-war movement tries to pretend that there is no left opposition to their position.

SIAW are not very impressed with the argument while
Hak Mao does a good job of tackling the main weakness in this position but there are a few other points I want to make, without going over the whole left-wing case for the war again.

The article in Solidarity talked of : (the) pixillated right-wing inverse of the pixillated “anti-imperialists”, those who let commitment to the Iraqi working class lead them into backing Britain and the USA, that is, into political suicide as socialists, are in their own way no less foolish and even more ridiculous than their mirror-images.

They spend going on for 3,000 words or so dealing with the SWP’s reactionary anti-imperialism but it seems that one paragraph will suffice to dismiss the pro-regime change left and label us ‘even more ridiculous’ than the SWP. Still it gives us something to be going on with:

The AWL rightly criticise the reactionary pro-Ba’athist, pro-Islamist section of the anti-war movement and rightly urge support for the Iraqi labour movement and the Iraqi left. In the terminology of their theory this is a ‘third camp’ position – a way socialists can oppose both the reactionary ‘resistance’ and equally, it appears, the ‘imperialist occupiers’.

There are some obvious problems with this position and forgive me for spelling them out again:

1. Without the military intervention of outside powers there would be no ‘third camp’ activity in Iraq. The Iraqi labour movement would still be in a state of illegality, anyone who tried to organise an independent trade union or a left-wing political party would face the consequences that went with such action in Saddam’s dictatorship.

The AWL know this but still they marched against military intervention. Had their anti-war slogans won the day, Iraq would still be a fascist dictatorship today.

2. In the current armed conflict between the reactionary ‘resistance’ and the transitional government which, in line with a United Nations resolution, is seeking to take the country forward to free elections and a federal, democratic republic, the British and US forces are, at the moment, explicitly pro-democracy. They act in defence of the best guarantee for the safe and legal operation of the Iraqi labour movement — a successful transition to democracy. In short, at the moment, without the armed forces of US and Britain, the ‘third camp’ would almost certainly be brutally crushed by reaction.

The AWL surely know this but still they declare themselves as equally opposed to the military efforts of Britain and the US in Iraq as to the Islamists and Ba’athists fighting them.

This is an untenable position to take and is fantasy politics. You cannot be in favour of a ‘third camp’ while trying to kick away the legs which are holding it up.

The AWL simply don’t have an answer to the pro-regime change position other than claiming it is “political suicide for socialists” . I rather fear that phrase explains everything about their position. They are trapped inside a far left milieu where sects compete for recruits and an odd sort of ‘prestige’ and where taking a pro-regime change position over Iraq would indeed have been political suicide but only in the pointless terms of bragging rights on the far left.

I have a lot of time for the AWL though. They are the only left sect worth listening to, their publications the only ones worth reading for positive reasons. I read the SWP’s material but just for reasons of Know Your Enemy. The AWL aren’t the enemy but they are part of the problem with the radical left. They are trapped with the coteries of a dying movement.

The real job of democratic socialists today is not in providing an internal opposition to the SWP inside the anti-war movement but is in building a new left, one which makes no compromises with Islamism, Ba’athism, their western fellow-travellers or any other kind of reactionary ‘anti-imperialism’. A left which feels no reason to be embarassed about preferring democracy to fascism but is in fact proud to do so.

You don’t have to go as far as Christopher Hitchens but he was right when he wrote the other day about leaving the dying left behind:

Believe me when I say that once you have done it, there’s no going back. I have met a few other ex-hostages, and they all agree that the relief is unbelievable.