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Nick Howard

The lesser evil?

(February 1988)

From Socialist Worker Review, No.106, February 1988, pp.33-34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PHIL MARSHALL (Dec. SWR) argued that the SWP should now support Iran in the Gulf War in view of the increasing intervention of the US and its allies against Iran.

Have we now replaced revolutionary defeatism with an anti-imperialist policy of support for lesser imperialisms against dominant ones?

Khomeini’s regime actively tries to export Islamic fundamentalism so as to increase its power in the Middle East. It also exercises brutal repression against Kurdish and other minorities and suppresses all forms of independent working class activity. The Iraqi regime provides a mirror image to the Iranian regime, but without religious fundamentalism.

In peacetime we would urge workers to follow socialist internationalism. The Gulf War does not change this analysis. Lenin advocated in 1914-18 that workers on both sides, whether in uniform or in the workplaces, should turn against their own ruling classes.

The belated intervention of the USA in 1917 did not change Lenin’s position to one of support for Germany’s lesser imperialism. In fact, not even Germany’s invasion of the Ukraine and the defeats which it imposed upon the Soviets directly, caused Lenin to abandon the policy of revolutionary defeatism.

Why then do we now call for the ending of revolutionary defeatism in the Gulf War? Why would we now oppose strikes of Iranian workers that damage Iran’s war effort? Surely all strikes against the Iranian ruling class would weaken its ability both to send masses of young men to the slaughter and to repress its working class and minorities.

The Western powers’ limited naval intervention does not amount to a full scale attack on Iran. In fact, they continue to send arms to both sides in the war and to facilitate the oil commerce with both countries that pays for these arms. No Western power has sent troops on the ground to aid Iraq.

Surely we must support those workers on both sides who by desertions and strikes sabotage the efforts of their ruling classes, whether or not they have revolutionary Marxist parties to organise them and whether or not we can offer them practical support.

As it is probable that the war will end without a clear victory for either side and that this may create more prospects for revolution in the Middle East, we have to remain in favour of independent working class activity against both Islamic nationalisms and imperialism.


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