Bob Gould, 2004
Source: Ozleft, Marxmail, January 20, 2004
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
I value the Marxism list, as all of us who participate in it probably do, as both a platform to expound my views to others, and also as an arena in which from time to time I learn a bit from views opposed to my own. My view on a few things has even changed a bit as a result of arguments on Marxmail. I’ve learnt that it’s a bit problematic and dangerous to argue too much with Louis, as its his show, he’s the moderator and chairman, and he and Les pay the bills. I have no sympathy at all with the petit-bourgeois dingbat who occasionally, pretentiously, accuses Louis of some conflict of interest because he works in a university.
Nevertheless, Louis’s style can be pretty irritating, and his network of prejudices fascinates me a bit. I haven’t a clue, for instance, why he says of Susan Weismann, that she’s dreadful, etc. All I know about Ms Weismann is her political biography of Victor Serge is an excellent piece of Marxist scholarship, that I found very useful.
The contours of this latest outburst about Mansour Hekmat from Louis and M. Junaid Alam, his younger associate, are kind of vintage Marxmail. Louis warns Tom O’Lincoln against making pronouncments like Trotsky at Coyoacan (as he has also warned me on occasion) and in almost the same breath, out-Trotskys Trotsky himself.
A while back he dismissed Les Evenchick as a fanatic, while Junaid Alam and Nestor can verbally abuse anyone living or dead with little or no reproof from Louis. And so it goes.
Louis’s justification for his harsh stand in favour of political clarity, as he calls it, about autonomism mystifies rather than enlightens. Having been interested by the Workers’ Communist Party’s exemplary political agitation inside Iraq, I have moved to try to swim through the bad translation of many of the pamphlets by the group’s late leader, Mansour Hekmat, to try to get a fix on the political standpoint of the organisation, and of Hekmat himself.
I’m inclined to have a similar view to that expressed by Ken McLeod on his blog, where he said something like, that on discovering Hekmat he suddenly felt as if there had been a Rosa Luxemburg or a Lenin working away in Clapham or somewhere that he’d just become aware of, and that he (McLeod) didn’t see why the fact that such a sui generis Marxist thinker came from Iran should preclude him from serious consideration as a Marxist theorist.
It seems to me that rather than being a straightforward autonomist, Hekmat has reinvented council communism. I don’t agree with council communism, but nevertheless, despite its weaknesses, it has some strengths, and quite an honourable history.
At the time of the formation of the Comintern, Lenin and Trotsky made quite strenuous efforts to draw the various ultraleft critics of the social democracy, as well as the Industrial Workers of the World, into the Comintern.
They regarded the rejection of work in the bureaucratised movements by the IWW and assorted ultralefts as basically healthy, although politically mistaken. They certainly didn’t adopt Junaid Alam’s unpleasant “pile of shit” formulation toward proletarian ultralefts.
There is a great deal of credible evidence that despite the theoretical defects of council communism in the particular conditions of Iraq, where the existing trade unions were repellant tools of the Baathist state apparatus, loathed by the masses, that the council communist notion of creating new organisations from the ground up appears to have struck quite a chord.
I also don’t doubt that in the course of constructing real trade unions that the comrades of the WCPI will be forced by circumstances to shed some of the theoretical weaknesses of council communism.
In Australia, where I operate, there are a large number of refugees from Iraq. Thousands of them, in fact, and I and others active in support of refugees have met many of them, and that is how I met the WCPI activists in Australia.
I’ve had fairly long discussions with a couple of them who hold Australian citizenship, who’ve come back to Australia after four or five months of organising on behalf of the WCPI inside Iraq.
Even allowing for the enthusiasm that adherents of revolutionary groups have, based on discussions with these comrades and observers’ accounts on the web, there is considerable evidence that they’ve had a great deal of success in organising industrial workers, the unemployed, and women and in setting up new union organisations and committees, as well as building their own party organisation.
I have some political disagreements with them. I’m strongly in favour of the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops without any illusions in the United Nations, while the WCPI comrades are for immediate withdrawal, but hope to have the US, Australian and British occupying force replaced by the UN, which seems to me to be an impossible and undesirable position to hold in the current conditions in Iraq.
Some of the WCPI, although not all, seem to support the French ban on the chadoor, which seems to me to be a grave political error. I am intransigently opposed to the French ban, which is clearly an expression of traditional French imperial arrogance and chauvinism.
It seems to me that the WCPI in general goes a bit overboard in its opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, nevertheless, its hostility to to such fundamentalism is based on real experience of the tendency of Islamists of the worst sort to kill Marxists and socialists whenever they get the opportunity.
I know a number of Marxist exiles from places such as Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia and they share considerable hostility to the more extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism, often based on the very sound consideration that those kind of fundamentalists try to kill Marxists.
I’m not inclined to invite Marxists anywhere to adopt some self-denying ordinance allowing themselves to be killed in the interests of what someone like Junaid Alam might choose to regard as the revolution. The world isn’t like that.
I’m all for a united front against US and other imperialist powers, but I’m strongly in favour of working class and socialist independence within that united front.
The comrades from the WCPI I’ve spoken to, who’ve just returned from Iraq, say that by and large their supporters are like everyone else in Iraq these days, armed for self-defence, but that their primary emphasis is to use the limited possibilities for working class self-mobilisation and organisation at this stage.
They say the Iraqi masses in general, all cultural and ethnic groups, desire an end to the imperialist occupation. They say that by and large, the followers of the various Shi’ite organisations are not engaged in any deliberate military clash with the occupiers, and neither, for obvious reasons, are the Kurdish nationalist groups, which have de facto control in Iraqi Kurdistan and to some extent, in Kirkuk.
They assert that the most hated Baathist leaders, policemen, etc, have been wiped out by the masses in the Shi’ite and Kurdish areas, and that the surviving leading Baathists are holed up in the Sunni tribal areas.
They further assert that the miltiary clashes with the imperialist occupying regime have been almost exclusively carried out by Baathists and Islamicists, including some from outside the country.
They further assert that these military actions against the occupiers are unpopular with the masses in the Kurdish and Shi’ite areas, despite the desire of the Shi’ites that the imperialists should get out of Iraq.
They say that these military actions are even unpopular amongst the Sunni population in Baghdad, although they are fairly popular in the Sunni tribal areas to the north and west of Baghdad.
They assert that the WCPI doesn’t support military actions against the occupiers at this stage, and they particularly single out suicide bombings as a mode of struggle not traditional in Iraq.
They place great weight on the struggle for women’s rights in Iraq.
I have no reason to disbelieve the general account that the WCPI members give of the situation in Iraq.
On the basis of their account, it seems to me that the day-to-day tactical orientation of the WCPI is not unreasonable, and its day-to-day agitational activity is extraordinarily useful from a socialist point of view.
The WCPI, the Shi’ite mass organisations and the Kurdish mass organisations have the right to make their own tactical decisions about how to deal with the imperialist occupation of Iraq.
I am in the paradoxical situation that while not glorying in bloodshed and mayhem, and while regarding even US imperialist troops as human beings, I am gladdened by the quagmire into which the Iraq situation has drawn US imperialism.
Nevertheless, I’ve been a proletarian socialist all my life, and this leads me, as Tom O’Lincoln observes, towards a certain prejudice in favour of the kind of working class agitation engaged in by the WCPI, whatever other political disagreements I might have with them.
It’s quite reasonable of them to test the possibilities of proletarian mobilisation in the existing circumstances, as they have, apparently with considerable success.
I’d point out that they appear to be becoming the bete noir of some sections of the imperialist administration, which is demonstrated by imperialist troops shooting at demonstrations organised by them, killing some people, and sporadic arrests of some of their leaders.
In that framework, I’m infuriated by the arrogant and ignorant contempt for the WCPI expressed from within the imperialist heartland by some socialists who ought to know better.