October 20, 2007

War at Stop the War

I suggested that I shouldn't have got into the argument at all and I still don't know where I stand on it but two of my regular commentors here have got very lively over the Stop the War Coalition's decision to deny an affiliation to a group called Hands off the People of Iran. I've done two posts on this already here and here. I should probably be doing a post on Ben White's Comment is free piece on that stupid OneVoice business but I'm learning so much from the debate over this StWC/HOPI spat, I can't let go. I keep changing my mind about it for a start.

Ok, a little detour to Ben White. You'll see his biographical details at the bottom of his Cif piece. I'll just say he writes a lot for Electronic Intifada and he's no friend of OneVoice unlike the chap who Cif got to write the first Cif piece on it, a Seth Freedman. I think he's one of the Linda Grant interns at the Guardian. He's a big fan of the movement that wants the Palestinians refugees to stay refugees or at least stay away from where they come from so that he, an English stockbroker, can stay in the place he doesn't come from. I think he also fails to mention that OneVoice wants Israel to retain "settlement blocks." He denounces those who denounce OneVoice for being a smokescreen for a colonial settler state, as "extremists." But I've done the link so see for yourself.

Anyway, where was I? The debate around StWC and the comments here on it. Johng did this comment. No he didn't. I need to plan better. He was addressing Tony Greenstein who posted this comment:
John G doesn't get it. Of course we argued that the Iraqi regime didn't have weapons of mass destruction and more importantly, even if they did, they were hardly a 45 minute threat to Britain and that in any case we'd supplied these very same weapons. And it's also true that we didn't say Saddam had a programme to invade his neighbours. The same is true of the Iranian regime. Noone I know in the CPGB or HOPIA is arguing that the Iranian state is intent on invading its neighbours nor that it is in the process of developing nuclear weapons (and if it was well the US has helped Israel and Pakistan to do just the same anyway so an invasion would only be a pretext).

But we also didn't deny the horrific nature of the Iraqi regime and that is also what we are arguing about the Iranian regime. That it is a viciously anti-working class regime which is also engaging in severe repression of its minorities, gays and women.

Nor is anyone supporting an invasion of Iran. The question is whether or not one buries one's criticism of that regime. There was a time when the SWP argued that defending a neo-colonial state against attack by imperialism didn't mean that one downplayed the reactionary nature of that regime. We argued for independent working class opposition to that regime AT THE SAME TIME AS OPPOSING AN ATTACK ON IT.

The problem with the SWP is that they are now unable to argue both at the same time, i.e. they have collapsed into a form of uncritical third worldist politics. And that is why we have these ludicrous bans on the CPGB and Hopia.

These proscriptions are political, in that the groups concerned, as John G admits, don't accept that they should downplay or keep quiet on their opposition to the Iranian regime. As such the bans are sectarian and call into question the broad nature of the StWC. The Green Party, Lib-Dems etc. are welcome but not groups to the left of the SWP. To my mind that is undemocratic and all the arguments I have heard are merely an exercise in semantics.

The CPGB may be tiny in comparison with the SWP, but ironically their paper, Weekly Worker, because it is open has a much higher readership than Socialist Worker. Over 30,000 people each week download it, whereas SW is boring, dishonest and, as with its coverage of the Respect debacle, leaves its readership in the dark about what is going on. Which of course is par for the course for a group whose methodology is Stalinist.
Now johng does his comment:

Did you attack the StW coalition for 'downplaying' the nature of the Iraqi regime- yes or no? There is no difference whatsoever in the approach, and as stated, the Iraqi regime, objectively, was much more repressive.

There wouldn't have even been a strike to be repressed in that country. Everyone understood very early on in the run up to the Iraq war that the key duty of the anti-war movement was to demystify the nature of even that horrible regime. It was a considerably tougher job to be honest.

Its obviously difficult for those whose entire political practice had been linked to arguing that the regime was worst then any other, partly a consequence of a political shift from class or nationalist politics towards 'international civil society' type politics, to make such a shift.

To their credit large sections of the Iraqi exile left did in the end make this shift. For various reasons the exile Iranian left has been much slower, and spent most of their time denouncing those opposed to war for not denouncing the Iranian regime. That is of course their right, but broad coalitions are dependent on basic clarity about ends.

Early on a political concensus was won on the basis that the British state and the United States were conniving in aggressive wars of choice across the whole region in an attempt to dominate that region. In such a situation, a position of equi-distance simply makes no sense.

We have to stop our government from joining in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people, the destruction of all possibility for development and progress across the region for generations, and an era of hatred and despair which will persist as long.

To spend our time in this situation having debates about what is or is not the precise position to be taken to the Iranian regime and calling each other 'opportunist' this or 'third worldist' that (wha?) would be nutty.
And while I was doing a hand-wringing "I still don't know what to think" sort of a comment, Stephen Marks was posting this:
Johng’s apologia for the StWC leadership’s stalinist ban is a disgrace. He is using the same smear and ‘guilt by association’ tactics that Mikey at HP used against Avi Shlaim to suggest that he was a holocaust denier. John implies that ‘Iranian dissidents’ [conveniently unnamed] are conniving with the CIA in the same way as emigre political circles in Iraq were in talks with the US before the Iraq war. The implication is that these are the Iranians associated with HOPI.

John writes that;

‘one source of tension that has existed with the Iranian 'exile left' (and I'd stress Lenin's point that we are dealing with other sects which have existed here in the west over several decades) is that most of their propaganda over these decades have been to stress over and over again that Iran is the worse regime in the world, that there ought to be sanctions against it, and that alliances with anyone, from Saddam Hussain's Ba'ath Party, right through to US imperialism is justified against it’.

No evidence whatever is produced to ‘prove’ that the Iranian groups associated with HOPI do in fact hold these reactionary positions. In fact Yasmine Mather, one of the leading Iranians in HOPI, wrote in January in a article linked to on the HOPI site;

‘After months of discussion and hesitation, the United Nations security council finally imposed sanctions against Iran on Saturday December 23. Inside Iran no-one is in any doubt that it is workers and the poor who will pay the price of these sanctions, as the islamic regime uses the excuse of ‘new economic conditions’ to sack tens of thousands of workers, stop paying the wages of thousands of public sector employees and increase repression, while pressing ahead with its nuclear programme...

‘They could have added that the supporters of ‘regime change in Iran’ (including forces deluding themselves that calls for such change, imposed from outside, will improve the plight of workers, women and national minorities) and the apologists of the islamic regime in the anti-war movement also need each other and that “the rhetoric of one is modelled on the rhetoric of the other”.

‘Events of the last few weeks of 2006 showed once more the perilous nature of both positions. The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group have not altered the threat of military aggression and, now sanctions against Iran are a reality, the US-UK governments have not given up plans for regime change from above.

‘At the same time a rainbow of rightwing and reformist groups inside and outside Iran, some even claiming to support workers’ rights, are playing up to this gallery, at times unaware of the disastrous consequences of simply calling for trade union, women’s and democratic rights, while failing to mention the role of imperialism and its barbarous wars in the region. They cannot see that singling out islamic regimes such as Iran’s shia republic as the only forces of ‘evil’ plays into the hands of world capital. Such campaigns, whatever the intention of their supporters, add up to no more than direct or indirect support for imperialist scenarios of ‘velvet revolution’.

So much for John’s attempt to smear them by association with other un-named groups that allegedly claim that ‘Iran is the worse regime in the world, that there ought to be sanctions against it, and that alliances with anyone, from Saddam Hussain's Ba'ath Party, right through to US imperialism is justified against it’.

Nor do I see anywhere on the HOPI site, any evidence of ‘arguing that the regime was worst then any other, partly a consequence of a political shift from class or nationalist politics towards 'international civil society' type politics’. If the groups he is referring to really have spent 'decades’ doing this he should be able at least to name them and give us some links to where and when they have said it.

Otherwise we will hve to dismiss his contribution as nothing more than a vulgar smear. At least those who practice ‘guilt by association’ at Harry’s Place are usually specific about who they are dishonestly accusing their opponents of ‘associating’ with.

The one group I can recognise John as actually referring to here is the so-called ‘Peoples Mujahideen’ group who were the ones collecting signatures on our streets by showing people awful photographs of atrocities, who did indeed fight with and take finance from Saddam Hussein, and who, despite being officially listed as terrorists by the USA, are now being armed and supported by US forces in Iraq and used again against Iran.

For John to imply that the groups associated with HOPI have any conection with the Peoples Mujahideen is in effect to finger them to the Iranian regime and its police and agents, and is a disgrace for which he should apologise.

The reality is that StWC has on principle barred from its platforms people who would not undertake to refrain from criticisms of the Islamic Republic. This actually weakens the antiwar movement, as there is no more effective answer to those who try to use the repressive nature of the regime as an excuse for not opposing an attack on Iran, than to point out that Iranian oppositionists themselves are opposed themselves to a US attack and, for obvious reasons, have no wish for an Iraqi-style ‘liberation’.

And who better to make that point than Iranian exiles?

The question is not whether or not one should endorse the precise analysis of these groups, but whether they should be excluded from the StWC. And if you think, as I do, that they could do better than get mixed up with the sectarians of the ‘cpgb’, maybe the attitude of some other parts of the left could explain why.
Hasn't helped me any in terms of where I stand vis á vis StWC v HOPI but the discussions taking place on the previous two posts and hopefully on this one are very useful, I think, when it comes to establishing where people and groups stand on the issues around the wars on and in the Middle East and how they should be opposed.


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