What’s stopping us?

Tom Griffiths had some thoughtful and thought-provoking things to say in the comments about my willingness to credit George Bush’s commitment to democracy in Iraq and elsewhere while rejecting his pro-business domestic agenda:

What I find interesting about your post is precicely the contradiction you highlight between the Bush who is leading the push for the extension of the bourgeois revolution – something worthy of vigorous support – and the domestic Bush, the current leader of a patch where the aforesaid revolution has been completed (with some fine tuning around such issues as gay rights, gender equality etc. still to be completed) – something which shows the limitations and inevitable consequences of staying within the confines of the bourgeois dream.

For me, the point of this is that it exposes the urgent necessity of pushing for a genuinely left line on a range of issues including Iraq where, for example, we should be arguing that Iraq’s liberation is justified on strategic, revolutionary grounds (because of the impact this will have on destabilising the region and hence the grip on power of local tyrants, developments which will push forward the development of democracy in the region), rather than confining them to humanitarian grounds.

When we unite with Bush and the neocons we do so for very specific (and likely short term) reasons. These are focussed on international policy and the vigorous prosecution of the democratic revolution in those parts of the world where it has not been successfully waged – the Middle East and Africa being obvious examples.

But when it comes to domestic issues… there are no grounds for unity unless we wish to promote pseudo left or liberal visions which advocate the view that the problems of capitalism can be resolved within the confines of its own framework.

It would be good to see blogs like Harry’s, Will rubbish, Siaw, Last superpower etc. struggling to develop a genuinely left line on things ‘cos at the moment, inspite of what a variety of individuals may be thinking or doing we tend to be trailing behind Bush and Blair rather than pushing them.

I agree with Tom, and I’ve made similar arguments in the past. In October 2003 I suggested points of agreement between those of us on the Left who supported the Iraqi invasion, and those who opposed it but now understand the importance of helping Iraq achieve democracy and defeating the reactionary “resistance.” I noted some common ground that we shared with neither the top officials of the Bush administration nor with the “US/UK Out Now” crowd.

I think several of these points are still relevant: especially supporting a free and strong Iraqi labor movement while demanding that Iraqis control their own political and economic affairs– which means letting them decide how much of their economy to privatize. It means opposing US government and corporate efforts to impose their version of the “free market” on Iraq. We need to be more vigilant and more outspoken about these matters.

An important part of these efforts is supporting groups inside Iraq like the IFTU and outside groups like Labour Friends of Iraq. This kind of grass-roots solidarity and assistance could be extended to other areas, such as women’s rights, education, the media, the environment and community organizing. We could use a few less like our comments-box carpers and a few more like Fern Holland.

The American pro-war leftist Paul Berman made this point in an interview shortly after the fall of Baghdad:

“…Never mind what Bush is doing. Let’s define our own policy to do more, not less, on behalf of liberal revolution.

“Instead, people tend to say, ‘Oh, I don’t trust the Bush administration, therefore we should do nothing at all.’ But really the nature of American society is such that there are a lot of things people can do whether or not the government is doing it for them.

“Immediately after the defeat of the Nazis, the U.S. State Department and the Army were running things in the American sectors of Germany and wanted nothing to do with the German unions and the German democratic left. But the American unions sent in their own people to support the German social democrats and the unions. And that was a really important thing to do.”

Just as American unionists helped strengthen the German democratic Left after World War II, the western Left can surely find ways to help their sisters and brothers in Iraq. Much as we oppose many of Bush’s policies, how exactly are those policies stopping us?

I wish the democratic Left had taken Berman’s ideas more seriously then. Perhaps they could have helped strengthen the Iraqi democratic Left. But what’s to prevent us from taking them seriously now?