Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Israel, Iran and Reason

The Left press and internet chatter over recent days has been full of a discussion of an article by Sean Matgamna of the AWL that we are told was intended to provoke discussion about what the left’s position should be were Israel to launch an attack on Iran. Its notable that most of the actual discussion of this issue has been in the rest of the left press, whereas the AWL have responded to criticism of the argument with their now familiar brand of bilious invective, evasion and rudeness. The AWL are an insignificant Stalinist microsect of a few dozen people, and in some ways it would be better for the left to simply ignore them, and allow them to wither away. That indeed had been my intention. But, the fact that the rest of the left has taken up this discussion makes it one worth engaging with. Moreoever, as Trotsky said about the original Stalinism it represents a syphilis in the workers movement, and so the movement needs to be protected against it by all means. Finally, the AWL does contain still some healthy elements such as Dave Broder, and socialists should try to give whatever support we can to these elements in order to protect them from that virus. Dave Broder has said that he does not intend to split from the AWL, but intends to wage a principled fight within it. Such principles are to be applauded, but the reality is that in Leninist organisations, and particularly in the deformed Stalinist version of Leninism the possibility of leading such a struggle are limited. Dave should have realised that lesson over his struggle to change the organisations position over Iraq. Were the Minority to look like they were going to overturn the leadership on such an important issue they would be expelled or the organisation would split, it is inconceivable that the leadership would themselves be content to occupy a Minority position on this issue. The danger is that the remaining healthy elements inside the AWL such as Dave Broder will rather simply become demoralised and disillusioned, especially as they can expect the same rudeness now used against non-AWL comrades to be turned on them were they to begin to have any real success within the organisation. It would be a great pity of comrades like Dave Broder were lost to the Labour Movement, and we should do everything we can to avoid that.

Having said all that I think that the focus of much of the criticism of Sean’s article has in fact been wrong. That focus has been on his statement that “Israel would have good reason to attack Iran.” If we analyse that statement is it in fact wrong? I have myself argued that given the objectives of the US it is inevitable that it will attack Iran. Is there a great deal of difference between that statement and Sean’s? You could argue that in saying its inevitable that the US will attack Iran is also to say it will do so because from the perspective of US imperialism it has good reason for undertaking such action, and generally speaking we assume that states act out of some basic rationality.

If we view things from the perspective of US imperialism then it has “good reason” to attack Iran, because in order to achieve its objectives it cannot allow a state like Iran to act as a potential focus of opposition to its plans in the region. If we look at things likewise from the perspective of Israel as a sub-imperialist power then it too for similar motives has “good reason” to attack Iran as a means of achieving its objectives – whether or not Iran has or is likely to develop nuclear weapons. The following statement by Trotsky is illuminating from this perspective.

Quoting Lenin he says,

“Imperialism camouflages its own peculiar aims – seizure of colonies, markets, sources of raw material, spheres of influence – with such ideas as “safeguarding peace against the aggressors,” “defense of the fatherland,” “defense of democracy,” etc. These ideas are false through and through. It is the duty of every socialist not to support them but, on the contrary, to unmask them before the people. “The question of which group delivered the first military blow or first declare war,” wrote Lenin in March 1915, “has no importance whatever in determining the tactics of socialists. Phrases about the defense of the fatherland, repelling invasion by the enemy, conducting a defensive war, etc., are on both sides a complete deception of the people.” “For decades,” explained Lenin, “three bandits (the bourgeoisie and governments of England, Russia, and France) armed themselves to despoil Germany. Is it surprising that the two bandits (Germany and Austria-Hungary) launched an attack before the three bandits succeeded in obtaining the new knives they had ordered?”

See:Trotsky - "Lenin and Imperialist War"

He could have said, “Didn’t Germany and Austria-Hungary have good reason to launch an attack before……” Yet good reason or not Lenin did not say would, therefore socialists take into consideration this “good reason” in determining whether they should condemn such a war or not. Trotsky goes on to explain why.

“The objective historical meaning of the war is of decisive importance for the proletariat: What class is conducting it? and for the sake of what? This is decisive, and not the subterfuges of diplomacy by means of which the enemy can always be successfully portrayed to the people as an aggressor. Just as false are the references by imperialists to the slogans of democracy and culture. “... The German bourgeoisie ... deceives the working class and the toiling masses by vowing that the war is being waged for the sake of ... freedom and culture, for the sake of freeing the peoples oppressed by czarism. The English and French bourgeoisies ... deceive the working class and the toiling masses by vowing that they are waging war ... against German militarism and despotism.” A political superstructure of one kind or another cannot change the reactionary economic foundation of imperialism. On the contrary, it is the foundation that subordinates the superstructure to itself. “In our day ... it is silly even to think of a progressive bourgeoisie, a progressive bourgeois movement. All bourgeois democracy ... has become reactionary.” This appraisal of imperialist “democracy” constitutes the cornerstone of the entire Leninist conception.”

But, that is precisely the point isn’t it? In looking at wars and deciding their attitude to them Marxists do not put themselves in the place of the bourgeoisie of the particular state, and say “Is there good reason for this war?” On that basis we could never condemn any imperialist war, because from the perspective of the bourgeoisie there is ALWAYS a good reason for their action. To begin from a position of looking at things from the perspective of the bourgeoisie is to condemn yourself to always acting as its apologist, even if as in the case of the AWL a shamefaced apologist. It is to become, what Trotsky described the AWL’s predecessors, the original Stalinists, communo-chauvinists.

It is that perspective, that methodology which has put the AWL on the wrong side of the class lines on many instances of a similar kind. Time and again they look at the National Question not from the perspective of proletarian internationalism, but of bourgeois nationalism.

That is why in trying to con us into believing that he engages in a principled search for reasons why Marxists should condemn any attack by Israel, Sean in fact gives us a duff list of arguments, whose real purpose is not to enquire whether such an attack should be condemned, but to provide the basis of an argument against those “idiot-anti imperialists” who in such an attack will give a knee jerk support to Iran. The one reason he does not give to be considered, which should be the first thing that comes to the head of a Marxist is that given by Lenin and Trotsky above,

“The objective historical meaning of the war is of decisive importance for the proletariat: What class is conducting it? and for the sake of what? This is decisive, and not the subterfuges of diplomacy by means of which the enemy can always be successfully portrayed to the people as an aggressor”.

If Israel were to launch an attack on Iran, or likewise if Iran were to launch an attack on Israel it would not be to enslave the other nation. It would be in order to constrain the power of the other, just as in general inter-imperialist wars do not intend to turn the defeated nation into a colony of the victor, not even the First World War had that perspective. It is inconceivable that Iran, even were it to obtain nuclear weapons, and there is no indication that it is anywhere near about to, and MOSSAD is a very effective intelligence gathering agency, would launch a nuclear strike against Israel. For one thing, doing so would kill tens of thousands of Palestinians and other Arabs, but secondly it would unleash a much more deadly strike from Israel, which is the world’s fifth most nuclear armed state. There is absolutely no reason then for socialists to support one state as against another, both should be condemned without question of who started the fight. The task of socialists would be to turn such a war into a Civil War, for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie in both states. That is defeatism on both sides. That as Trotsky sets out dos not mean socialists going out in their own state trying to blow things up, it siimply means conducting propaganda and activity designed to turn the guns on your own bouregoisie.

It is not quite the same in the case of an attack on Iran by the US. The US has shown quite clearly in the case of Iraq, that it is prepared not just to launch limited wars, but is prepared to deprive other states of national rights, to occupy them and so on. In any such war the actions even of a nationalist bourgeoisie to defend its nation state would have to be supported by socialists – though of course the socialists would maintain their political and organisational independence. The question here would be what is the actual motivation - is it a War of conquest.
The main task of socialists at the moment is to oppose, by independent working class action, the war drives of the imperialist and expansionist states. That means action by the working class to drive the US out of Iraq, and for the removal of its fleet from the Gulf. It means action to deny arms to the clerical-fascists. It means developing a Programme of Action for Iraq, Iran and the rest of the Middle East around which workers and peasants can be mobilised for a fight both against imperialism, and clerical-fascism, and in defence of workers interests. But, workers cannot prevent bourgeois states going to war, nor can they control or limit the actions of the armies of those states when they do so. Nor should Marxists advocate the positions of pacifism when such wars begin, for example desertion etc. The job of Marxists is to propagandise within the armed forces and within the working class and peasantry in general under such conditions rather for the guns to be turned on our respective ruling classes.

Responding to a similar lapse into social chauvinism by the Palestinian Trotskyists, Trotsky wrote,

"That policy which attempts to place upon the proletariat the unsolvable task of warding off all dangers engendered by the bourgeoisie and its policy of war is vain, false, mortally dangerous. “But fascism might be victorious!” “But the USSR is menaced!” “But Hitler’s invasion would signify the slaughter of workers!” And so on, without end. Of course, the dangers are many, very many. It is impossible not only to ward them all off, but even to foresee all of them. Should the proletariat attempt at the expense of the clarity and irreconcilability of its fundamental policy to chase after each episodic danger separately, it will unfailingly prove itself a bankrupt. In time of war, the frontiers will be altered, military victories and defeats will alternate with each other, political regimes will shift. The workers will be able to profit to the full from this monstrous chaos only if they occupy themselves not with acting as supervisors of the historical process but by engaging in the class struggle. Only the growth of their international offensive will put an end not alone to episodic “dangers” but also to their main source: the class society."

See: Trotsky - "A Step Towards Social Patriotism" March 1939

It becomes ever clearer why the AWL deleted my posts on their article on Glotzer and Israel - See: Liberty, Bah Humbug, and why they subsequently deleted my account, and why more recently they simply deleted any post I made to their site. As I showed in the responses to the Glotzer article - and indeed as I have shown in response to their collapse into new class theories of the USSR - their methodology is marked not by Marxism, but bouregois subjectivism. They do not look at Iran in class terms. Their entire argument is based instead on a characterisation of the political superstructure. It is in that regard the same as the argument put forward by the Palestinian Trotskyists above criticised by Trotsky, which failed to analyse the class basis of the contending regimes, and instead allowed itself to be blinded by the political mask - democracy and fascism. But, that same subjectivism and Opportunism can be witnessed in almost all of the AWL's politics.

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