|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Monday, December 15, 2003
The announcement of Saddam's capture was a global electrifying moment, as much so as the toppling of his statue, the opening of the war with the firing at him of forty-six cruise missiles all of which missed, and the Columbia space shuttle crash.
Good bloody riddance to the butcher. I hope he gets tried in Iraq, by Iraqis. As Iraq's Communists rightly celebrate, it might be a good time to take a look at their rather nuanced analysis of the postwar situation.
Not that I necessarily agree with all of (and all the tactics that flow from) that analysis, but that it has been arrived at by a party which - whatever else may be said about it - is a significant and historic part of the Iraqi left, is enough to show that, pace the pro-war left, it was possible to both oppose the war and to welcome (and earlier to fight for) the downfall of the dictatorship, even though that resulted from the war. It also, in the interview linked to above, makes very clear that the fall of a dictatorship is only a necessary and not a sufficient condition for democracy or liberty. (Not that anyone referred to below would dispute that.)
Norman Geras has criticised my argument that the war strengthens imperialism as follows:
This is an argument I've encountered several times in debating with anti-war friends, and the problem with it, as far as I'm concerned, is the way in which it loses the specific in the general. Because of the general character of US power as projected by opponents of the Iraq war, we must oppose a course of action which leads to the demise of the Saddam regime. Why can't we not oppose that, and - yes - oppose the same power if and when it is used against 'more hopeful and progressive uprisings, movement[s] and states'? Because by then it will have been strengthened? But that's strengthened by having rid the world of one of its most ghastly regimes. So we must put the present and proximate future of the Iraqi people in the balance against a long-range (and doom-laden) projection of the global future, and put the specificity of how American power is used here or there, and now, against the generality of what it is fixed as being in its very essence. Some of us felt unable to make that call.
This is, of course, a fair point, and I'll try to answer it. While I may not have expressed it clearly enough, I don't think my objection turns on opposing the specific to the general, or the real present to the speculated-upon future. First, this particular war is avowedly part of a long-term project to establish unchallengeable US hegemony, a project that in the view of many people - not just Marxists - threatens much wider wars, including (and yes, this is speculative) against other advanced capitalist states. That a war that is overall reactionary (or otherwise disastrous) can have progressive (or otherwise good) effects is not new, and abstracting these effects from their context isn't a new mistake, particularly and regrettably for socialists. Second, the concrete situation on the ground in Iraq is not simply one of the Coalition forces on the one side and supporters of the old - or some new - tyranny on the other. Indeed it's all too possible that even without Ba'athist or Islamist resistance, the occupation itself could be the catalyst for a slide into a worse situation than that before the war. As it is, even entirely peaceful trade union organization finds itself up against the the occupier's boot.
For that reason among others, I think it's quite important for people in the occupying countries to oppose the occupation in principle, while supporting in whatever way they can whatever social and political forces they regard as hopeful and progressive in the occupied countries, and preferably to do so in an intelligent manner, though that last may be too much to hope for in some cases.
Which brings us to the next point:
In the same way that the generality of American power swallows up the specificity of its use, Ken MacLeod has (I don't know, I guess) the benign intentionality, or assumed teleology, of the left diminishing the significance of its mistakes. He speaks of 'silly slogans and daft stunts', and says 'so bloody what?' - as if the left hasn't had to pay a rather heavy price in the past for some of the very conceptions at work in this supposed silliness and daftness.
What I meant by 'so bloody what? We just have to thole it' was that (given the background I outlined) stupidity is something to be expected and endured and fought against within the antiwar movement, not something that has to be accepted or used against it. The idea, for example, that there's some relevant analogy between US/UK imperialism versus Saddam Hussein (or the Taliban) on the one hand, and Italian fascism versus the empire of Haile Selassie (the Nelson Mandela of his day) on the other, is indeed grotesque. But it's a distortion, or perversion, of anti-imperialism rather than a betrayal of the victims of Saddam's regime. It's a correctable, though shameful, error. Errors on the side of support to imperialism are hardly ever correctable. That slope is too slippery, and the social gravitation too powerful, to be easily climbed back.
So without diminishing the significance or the price of the antiwar left's stupidities, compared with the monstrous misconception of the pro-war left that some justification for supporting the invasion of Iraq can be found in the words or deeds of Lenin or Trotsky they are as dust in the balance.